461 U.S. 458 (1983), 81-1983, Heckler v. Campbell

Docket Nº:No. 81-1983.
Citation:461 U.S. 458, 103 S.Ct. 1952, 76 L.Ed.2d 66
Party Name:Margaret H. HECKLER, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Petitioner, v. Carmen CAMPBELL.
Case Date:May 16, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 458

461 U.S. 458 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 1952, 76 L.Ed.2d 66

Margaret H. HECKLER, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Petitioner,

v.

Carmen CAMPBELL.

No. 81-1983.

United States Supreme Court.

May 16, 1983

Argued Feb. 28, 1983.

[103 S.Ct. 1952] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

To be entitled to disability benefits under the Social Security Act a person must not only be unable to perform his former work but must also be unable, considering his age, education, and work experience, to perform any other kind of gainful work that exists in the national economy. Prior to 1978, in cases where a claimant was found unable to pursue his former occupation, but his disability was not so severe as to prevent his pursuing any gainful work, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) relied on vocational experts to determine whether jobs existed in the national economy that the claimant could perform. In 1978, to improve the uniformity and efficiency of such determinations, the Secretary promulgated medical-vocational guidelines setting forth rules to establish whether such jobs exist. If a claimant's [103 S.Ct. 1953] qualifications correspond to the job requirements identified by a rule, the guidelines direct a conclusion as to whether work exists that the claimant can perform. If such work exists, the claimant is not considered disabled. After respondent's application for disability benefits was denied, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, who, relying on the guidelines, found that jobs existed that a person of respondent's qualifications could perform, and accordingly concluded that she was not disabled. Both the Social Security Appeals Council and the District Court upheld this determination. But the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the guidelines did not provide adequate evidence of specific alternative jobs that respondent could perform, that in the absence of such evidence respondent was deprived of any chance to present evidence that she could not perform the types of jobs identified by the guidelines, and that therefore the determination that she was not disabled was not supported by substantial evidence.

Held: The Secretary's use of the medical-vocational guidelines to determine a claimant's right to disability benefits does not conflict with the Social Security Act nor are the guidelines arbitrary or capricious. Pp. 1956-1959.

(a) While the statutory scheme contemplates that disability hearings will be individualized determinations based on evidence, this does not bar the Secretary from relying on rulemaking to resolve certain classes of issues. The determination as to whether jobs exist that a person having

Page 459

the claimant's qualifications could perform requires the Secretary to determine a factual issue that is not unique to each claimant and may be resolved as fairly through rulemaking as by introducing testimony of vocational experts at each disability hearing. To require the Secretary to relitigate the existence of jobs in the national economy at each hearing would hinder an already overburdened agency. Pp. 1956-1958.

(b) The principle of administrative law that when an agency takes official or administrative notice of facts, a litigant must be given an adequate opportunity to respond, is inapplicable where, as in this case, the agency has promulgated valid regulations. When the accuracy of such facts has been tested fairly during rulemaking, the rulemaking proceeding itself provides sufficient procedural protection. P. 1958.

665 F.2d 48 (10th Cir., 1981), reversed.

COUNSEL

John H. Garvey argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs wereSolicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General McGrath, Deputy Solicitor General Geller, and Anne Buxton Sobol.

Ruben Nazario argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief wereToby Golick and Jane Greengold Stevens.*

* Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Eileen P. Sweeney for the Gray Panthers; and by Dan Stormer for Tulare/Kings Counties Legal Services et al.

John H. Garvey, Lexington, Ky., for petitioner.

Ruben Nazario, Brooklyn, N.Y., for respondent.

OPINION

Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue is whether the Secretary of Health and Human Services may rely on published medical-vocational guidelines to determine a claimant's right to Social Security disability benefits.

I

The Social Security Act defines "disability" in terms of the effect a physical or mental impairment has on a person's ability

Page 460

to function in the work place. It provides disability benefits only to persons who are unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). And it specifies that a person must "not only [be] unable to do his previous work but [must be unable], considering his age, education, and work experience, [to] engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

In 1978, the Secretary of Health and Human Services promulgated regulations [103 S.Ct. 1954] implementing this definition. See 43 Fed.Reg. 55349 (1978) (codified as amended at 20 CFR pt. 404, subpt. P (1982)). The regulations recognize that certain impairments are so severe that they prevent a person from pursuing any gainful work. See 20 CFR § 404.1520(d) (1982) (referring to impairments listed at 20 CFR pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1). A claimant who establishes that he suffers from one of these impairments will be considered disabled without further inquiry. Ibid. If a claimant suffers from a less severe impairment, the Secretary must determine whether the claimant retains the ability to perform either his former work or some less demanding employment. If a claimant can pursue his former occupation, he is not entitled to disability benefits. See § 404.1520(e). If he cannot, the Secretary must determine whether the claimant retains the capacity to pursue less demanding work. See § 404.1520(f)(1).

The regulations divide this last inquiry into two stages. First, the Secretary must assess each claimant's present job qualifications. The regulations direct the Secretary to consider the factors Congress has identified as relevant: physical ability, age, education and work experience. 1 See 42

Page 461

U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20 CFR § 404.1520(f). Second, she must consider whether jobs exist in the national economy that a person having the claimant's qualifications could perform. 20 CFR § 404.1520(f); §§ 404.1566-404.1569.

Prior to 1978, the Secretary relied on vocational experts to establish the existence of suitable jobs in the national economy. After a claimant's limitations and abilities had been determined at a hearing, a vocational expert ordinarily would testify whether work existed that the claimant could perform. Although this testimony often was based on standardized guides, see 43 Fed.Reg. 9286 (1978), vocational experts frequently were criticized for their inconsistent treatment of similarly situated claimants. See Santise v. Schweiker, 676 F.2d 925, 930 (CA3 1982); J. Mashaw et al., Social Security Hearings and Appeals 78-79 (1978). To improve both the uniformity and efficiency2 of this determination, the Secretary promulgated medical-vocational guidelines as part of the 1978 regulations. See 20 CFR pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 2 (1982).

These guidelines relieve the Secretary of the need to rely on vocational experts by establishing through rulemaking the types and numbers of jobs that exist in the national economy. They consist of a matrix of the four factors identified by Congress

Page 462

--physical ability, age, education, and work experience3--and set forth rules that identify whether jobs requiring specific combinations of these factors exist in significant [103 S.Ct. 1955] numbers in the national economy. 4 Where a claimant's qualifications correspond to the job requirements identified by a rule,5 the guidelines direct a conclusion as to whether work exists that the claimant could perform. If such work exists, the claimant is not considered disabled.

II

In 1979, Carmen Campbell applied for disability benefits because a back condition and hypertension prevented her from continuing her work as a hotel maid. After her application was denied, she requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge. 6 He determined that her back

Page 463

problem was not severe enough to find her disabled without further inquiry, and accordingly considered whether she retained the ability to perform either her past work or some less strenuous job. App. to Pet. for Cert. 28a. He concluded that even though Campbell's back condition prevented her from returning to her work as a maid, she retained the physical capacity to do light work. Ibid. In accordance with the regulations, he found that Campbell was 52-years old, that her previous employment consisted of unskilled jobs and that she had a limited education. Id., at 28a-29a. He noted that Campbell, who had been born in Panama, experienced difficulty in speaking and writing English. She was able, however, to understand and read English fairly well. App. 42. Relying on the medical-vocational guidelines, the Administrative Law Judge found that a significant number of jobs existed that a person of Campbell's qualifications could perform. Accordingly, he concluded that she was not disabled. 7 App. to Pet. for Cert. 29a.

This determination was upheld by both the Social Security Appeals Council, id., at 16a, and the District Court for the Eastern District of New York, id., at 15a. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed. Campbell v. Secretary of...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP