Siburt v. Secretary of Health & Human Serv.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Northern District of West Virginia
Citation526 F. Supp. 1087
Decision Date24 November 1981
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 81-0016-W(H).
PartiesGlen L. SIBURT, Plaintiff, v. The SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant.

Bert Michael Whorton, Madden, Hughes & Whorton, Moundsville, W. Va., for plaintiff.

Betsy Steinfeld, U. S. Attorney's Office, Wheeling, W. Va., for defendant.


HADEN, District Judge.

This is an action under Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (hereinafter Act) 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (hereinafter Secretary) denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to 216(i) and 223 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423. The case is presently pending before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment. Memoranda have been filed by both parties.

Plaintiff made application for disability insurance benefits and a period of disability on October 31, 1979, alleging that he became unable to work on February 9, 1979, at age 48. After initial denials of his claims for benefits, Plaintiff was afforded a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) before whom he appeared with counsel.

The sole issue before this Court is whether the Secretary's finding that Plaintiff is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence. If the Secretary's findings are supported by substantial evidence, then this Court is bound to affirm that decision. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971); Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773 (4th Cir. 1977). In applying this standard on review, it is the Court's duty to closely scrutinize the entire record to determine if substantial evidence for the Secretary's decision is present. Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278 (4th Cir. 1969). Moreover, the Secretary must apply correct legal standards in his fact finding. Knox v. Finch, 427 F.2d 919 (5th Cir. 1970) and must consider all relevant evidence and must indicate explicitly what weight has been given to each item of evidence. See generally Arnold v. Secretary of HEW, 567 F.2d 258 (4th Cir. 1977).

In the present action Plaintiff claims to be disabled due to severe respiratory ailments including coughing and shortness of breath. Plaintiff alleged that this condition had worsened over the years. His working environment had been extremely dusty and smoky which forced Plaintiff to leave.

The ALJ in considering the evidence concluded that Plaintiff's impairments precluded the performance of his past relevant work activity. Plaintiff thus presented a strong enough showing of the evidence to shift the burden of going forward to the Secretary. Thorne v. Weinberger, 530 F.2d 580 (4th Cir. 1976); Taylor v. Weinberger, 512 F.2d 664 (4th Cir. 1975).

Once a prima facie case has been made by the Plaintiff the Secretary must assume the burden of determining by substantial evidence that there are alternative jobs that are within the capacity of the plaintiff/claimant to perform, and that these jobs exist in the national economy. See McLamore v. Weinberger, 538 F.2d 752, 754 (4th Cir. 1976). Before the promulgation of the so-called "grid," 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Appendix 2, Section 200, et seq. (grid), the Secretary relied upon evidence of a vocational expert to determine whether a plaintiff/claimant could engage in substantial gainful activity. Wilson v. Califano, 617 F.2d 1050 (4th Cir. 1980). In Hicks v. Califano, 600 F.2d 1048, 1050 (4th Cir. 1979), the Court stated:

The new regulations, 20 C.F.R. §§ 405.1502 to 1513 and Subpart P, Appendix 2 (1979), were adopted `to consolidate and elaborate upon long standing medical-vocational evaluation policies for adjudicating disability claims in which an individual's age, education and work experience must be considered in addition to the medical condition.' 43 Fed.Reg. 55349 (1978). The new regulations define each factor to be considered in determining whether disability exists. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505 to 1511. More importantly, they direct a finding of disability or no disability where the findings of fact in a particular case coincide with criteria established in the rules and tables of Subpart P, Appendix 2, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513.

In the instant case Plaintiff attacks the use of the grid to find that Plaintiff was not disabled. Also, the Plaintiff contends that the Administrative Law Judge could not establish that the Plaintiff had sufficient residual capacities to engage in a specific job without having the testimony of an independent vocational expert. In support of this proposition Plaintiff cites Santise v. Harris, 501 F.Supp. 274 (D.N.J.1980).1 This Court has earlier addressed this point in Sloan v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 512 F.Supp. 1296 (N.D.W.Va.1981), and has determined that a proper application of the grid may result in this Court's granting of Defendant's motion for summary judgment. See also Hicks, supra; Parker v. Harris, 626 F.2d 225, 234 (2nd Cir. 1980); Warncke v. Harris, 619 F.2d 412, 417 (5th Cir. 1980); Simonsen v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 512 F.Supp. 1064 (S.D.Cal.1981); Maurer v. Harris, 502 F.Supp. 320 (D.Or.1980); Stallings v. Harris, 493 F.Supp. 956, 957-61 (W.D.Tenn. 1980); Boyce v. Harris, 492 F.Supp. 751-52 (D.S.C.1980); Crowe v. Harris, 489 F.Supp. 683 (E.D.Tenn.1980); Phillips v. Harris, 488 F.Supp. 1161, 1165-68 (W.D.Va.1980); Halsted v. Harris, 489 F.Supp. 521, 525 (E.D.Mo.1980); and Fains v. Harris, 481 F.Supp. 30, 32 (D.Md.1979). This Court will grant Defendant's motion where the Secretary has applied the proper grid and where each element of consideration in the grid has been supported by substantial evidence.

In the present case the Secretary applied Section 202.18 of the grid. Application of this portion of the grid presupposes the following findings: (1) That Plaintiff is capable of performing light work. (2) That Plaintiff is a younger individual. (3) That Plaintiff's education is limited or less. (4) That Plaintiff is skilled or semiskilled with skills not transferable.

This Court after thoroughly reviewing the record in the present case finds that there were inadequate findings concerning Plaintiff's ability to perform light work and concerning whether Plaintiff's education may be considered as limited or less. The Court discusses these matters in their respective order.

The decision of the ALJ relied upon by the Secretary provides the following analysis concerning the extent of Plaintiff's respiratory problems:

Consideration is first directed to the claimant's allegations regarding the manifestations of his respiratory impairment. While the claimant has testified as to the existence of severe shortness of breath on mild exertion, the claimant's demeanor at the time of hearing was such that his testimony as to the severity and duration of his respiratory difficulties is found to be not credible.
Diagnoses of asthmatic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive lung disease are established. Episodes of bronchial spasms were noted with the claimant requiring hospitalization on several occasions. Chest x-rays disclosed no evidence of any active lung disease. Pulmonary function studies performed during an acute episode did disclose an FEV1 of 1.2 and an MVV of 67. However, pulmonary function studies performed in June of 1980 were found to be essentially normal with an FEV1 of 3.8 and an MVV of 115 recorded.
The nature of the claimant's respiratory impairment is such as to preclude him from returning to his prior work activity as well as any other occupation involving exposure to dust and or fumes. A preponderance of the evidence does, however, indicate that the claimant does have the residual functional capacity to engage in light work activity consistent with the aforementioned limitation. ALJ's Decision, page 5.

This analysis completely ignores several very important items of evidence. First, Plaintiff's personal physician states in a report to the Secretary as follows:

Since our previous contact, Mr. Siburt has been hospitalized on two occasions — April 27 thru May 1, 1980 and May 5 thru May 11, 1980. Diagnosis: Severe bronchitis and emphysema necessitating hospitalization. He is markedly short of breath when he is stable.
I feel this is a permanent disability. Any gainful employment is not possible. Transcript, at page 140.

Additionally, Dr. Martin Reiter describes Plaintiff's condition to be severe and gauges impairment at 50 per cent. Dr. George Easley, a consultant for the Secretary, also noted that Plaintiff's condition was severe but opines that ...

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2 cases
  • Hogan v. Schweiker, Civ. A. No. 81-K-1692.
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  • Smith v. Astrue, Civil Action No. 5:12CV98 (STAMP)
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    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Northern District of West Virginia
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    ...entire record to determine whether substantial evidence exists for those findings. Siburt v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 526 F. Supp. 1087, 1088 (N.D. W. Va. 1981) ("[I}t is the Court's duty to closely scrutinize the entire record to determine if substantial evidence for the Sec......

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