Martin v. Sullivan

Decision Date10 April 1990
Docket NumberNo. 89-1545,89-1545
Citation901 F.2d 650
Parties, Unempl.Ins.Rep. CCH 15352A Earl G. MARTIN, Appellant, v. Louis W. SULLIVAN, M.D., Secretary of Health and Human Services, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Timothy C. Harlan, Columbia, Mo., for appellant.

Janet Braggs, Kansas City, Mo., for appellee.

Before JOHN R. GIBSON, Circuit Judge, and FLOYD R. GIBSON and ROSS, Senior Circuit Judges.

FLOYD R. GIBSON, Senior Circuit Judge.

Earl G. Martin appeals from an order of the district court 1 which adopted the report of the magistrate 2 denying his claim for social security disability benefits. The district court held that substantial evidence existed in the record as a whole to sustain the ALJ's finding that Martin could return to his past relevant work and thus was not disabled. On appeal, Martin argues that the Secretary erred in finding that he can return to his past relevant work. For the reasons explained below, we affirm the decision of the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

Earl Martin is a 62 year old man, 5'6" tall, weighing 175 pounds. He has an eighth grade education. His prior employment includes work as a maintenance mechanic. This type of work is classified as heavy work and involves a considerable amount of bending, stooping, and climbing. In 1974, Martin underwent back surgery which included a spinal fusion. When he returned to work he was placed on light jobs. At the time of the onset of his alleged disability, he was working as a stockroom attendant.

Martin claims that he has been disabled since April 1984 due to a back condition, hypertension, and swelling in his legs. He has not worked since that time. The ALJ found that Martin has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of sedentary work. The ALJ further found, based on a vocational expert's testimony, that stockroom attendant jobs exist at both the light and sedentary level. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Martin is able to return to his past relevant work as a stockroom attendant. The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision. On judicial review, the magistrate recommended that the Secretary's motion for summary judgment be granted. The district court adopted that recommendation. This appeal followed.

II. DISCUSSION

The Social Security Act sets out the criteria by which a claimant's request for disability payments is evaluated. The Secretary has established a five-step sequential process for the ALJ to use in evaluating applications. See Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470-73, 106 S.Ct. 2022, 2024-26, 90 L.Ed.2d 462 (1986). At step four, the ALJ is required to evaluate whether or not the claimant is able to return to his past relevant work. If the claimant is found to be able to do so, then he is considered not disabled and is ineligible for benefits. Id. at 471, 106 S.Ct. at 2025.

In determining whether a claimant can perform his past relevant work, the Secretary may consider any work that was done in the prior 15 years that lasted long enough for the claimant to learn to do the work and that was substantial gainful activity. See Nimick v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 887 F.2d 864, 866 n. 3 (8th Cir.1989); 20 C.F.R. Sec. 404.1565(a) (1989). In the present case, while the record does not specifically state when Martin began his stockroom attendant's position, the evidence supports a reasonable inference that this position began when he returned to work after his 1974 back surgery. He continued to work at that job until 1984. This work falls within the 15 year past history that the ALJ may consider and continued for a significant period of time. It can hardly be argued that the duration was insufficient to enable the appellant to adequately learn the skills necessary to perform the occupation. Nor can it be fairly disputed the employment was gainful. Thus, we conclude that the ALJ properly considered Martin's job as stockroom attendant in his evaluation of past relevant work.

The ALJ is required to evaluate whether the claimant is able to perform his past work in light of his residual functional capacity. Residual functional capacity ("RFC") involves a medical evaluation of physical, mental, and other impairments. See 20 C.F.R. Sec. 404.1545(a) (1989). In addition to any formal medical evidence, the ALJ may consider other evidence of any limitations, which may include testimony by the claimant himself. Id. The ALJ then evaluates whether the claimant still has the ability to perform his past work in view of the remaining functional capacity. This decision is often critical and " 'every effort must be made to secure evidence that resolves the issue as clearly and explicitly as circumstances permit.' " Nimick, 887 F.2d at 866 n. 2 (quoting Social Security Regulation No. 82-62, Soc.Sec.Rep. 809,812 (West 1983)).

Martin contends that he can be found able to return to his past relevant work only if he is now able to perform it as he in fact performed it in the past. Applying that test, Martin claims that he is not able to return to his past relevant work because his stockroom attendant job required light exertion while he is now able to perform only sedentary work. He claims that the fact that stockroom attendant jobs exist at both the light and sedentary levels is beside the point; he must be found able to perform his prior work as he performed it in the past. He alleges that this interpretation of past relevant work is supported by the holding in Rogers v. Schweiker, 558 F.Supp. 1358 (N.D.Ala.1983).

In the Rogers case, the court found that the ALJ erred in finding the claimant not disabled. While the ALJ found that the claimant did not retain the RFC to do her particular prior job as cashier, he nonetheless found that she could return to the kind of work which she previously had done. Id. at 1359-60.

The district court's analysis of the ALJ's decision emphasized that "[t]wo positions which share the same title and have certain activities in common are not the same 'kind of work' where one requires a different functional capacity from the other." Id. at 1360. Thus, the court found that the decision that the claimant could perform her past relevant work required evidence that the claimant was able to actually perform the work in question. Id.

As Martin points out, under the Social Security Administration's regulations, one test which the ALJ may apply in determining whether or not a claimant retains the capacity to perform prior work is a test similar to that applied in Rogers. Social Security Regulation 82-61 provides that a claimant can return to past relevant work when he can perform "[t]he actual functional demands and job duties of a particular past relevant job...."

However S.S.R. 82-61 goes on to provide a second method by which the ALJ may evaluate the claimant. The claimant may also be found able to perform past...

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