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James v. Secretary of Health

January 31, 1979

GWENDOLYN JAMES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
SECRETARY OF HEALTH, EDUCATION AND WELFARE, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Honorable Charles H. Tenney, Judge.

PRESENT: HON. LEONARD P. MOORE, HON. WALTER R. MANSFIELD, Circuit Judges; HON. INZER B. WYATT, District Judge

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of record from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and was argued by counsel.

ON CONSIDERATION WHEREOF, it is now hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED that the Judgment of said District Court be and it hereby is AFFIRMED.

Plaintiff Gwendolyn James filed an application for disability benefits under § 223 of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 423,on November 2, 1970, which application was denied on May 5, 1971. The administrative law judges of the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare ("HEW") twice rejected her claims of disability and twice the HEW Appeals Council affirmed those decisions. In the instant case, plaintiff challenged the second Appeals Council decision. United States District Judge Charles H. Tenney (Southern District of New York), in a memorandum decision filed July 13, 1978, granted the Secretary of HEW's motion for judgment on the pleadings, leading to this appeal.

The record shows that plaintiff is a 63-year old female with a ninth grade education. Until 1968, she worked in various factories as a packer and a floor lady, both of these jobs requiring her to be constantly on her feet and to lift heavy boxes. She also had temporary jobs doing light clerical work in 1969 and 1970 at the Department of Census and the Postal Service. She last met the special earnings requirement for disability purposes on June 30, 1974. She lives alone in a fourstory walk-up building, travels short distances using public transportation, and is able to care for herself without assistance, although there is a dispute as to the degree of difficulty of these tasks for her. Plaintiff contends that she is disabled by hypertension, arthritis, pain, anxiety and depression, involuntary sleeping spells and obesity. The medical evidence confirms that plaintiff suffers in some degree from all of the complained of ailments, except perhaps involuntary sleeping spells. Plaintiff's extensive medical record, which begins in 1969 and continues into 1976, contains varying estimates of the degree of impairment caused by plaintiff's acknowledged illnesses.

The question raised on appeal is whether there is substantial evidence to support the Secretary's decision that plaintiff failed to establish that her condition satisfied the statutory test of "disability" as an

"inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months."

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A), a claimant is not disabled unless:

"his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy...."

In assessing disability, factors to be considered are (1) the objective medical facts; (2) expert medical opinions; (3) subjective complaints; and (4) the claimant's age, educational background, and work experience. Bastien v. Califano, 572 F.2d 908, 912 (2d Cir. 1978). The record indicates that the Administrative Law Judge considered these four elements of proof and did not err by relying on one portion of the record. He discussed plaintiff's impairments individually and also considered their combined effect. He specifically included all the impairments established by the medical evidence in the hypothetical question he propounded to the vocational expert. After evaluating a large number of conflicting assessments of plaintiff's physical and mental state and her ability to work in some type of gainful employment despite her condition, the Administrative Law Judge and the Appeals Council concluded that plaintiff could, despite her ailments, engage in the light and sedentary jobs enumerated by the vocational consultant at the hearing on January 16, 1974.

Although the record is rife with somewhat contradictory estimates of the seriousness of plaintiff's condition, we conclude that there is substantial evidence on the record as a whole to support the Secretary's findings that plaintiff is not "disabled" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 423.Plaintiff failed to establish that her hypertension was disabling by proving either the requisite end organ damage or the alternative actual disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1502(a) and (b). Unlike the situation in Ber v. Celebrezze, 332 F.2d 293 (2d Cir. 1964), substantial evidence indicates that plaintiff's arthritic symptoms are not disabling despite her subjective testimony of pain. Nor does the evidence show any significant functional restriction resulting from plaintiff's emotional state. Plaintiff's weight appears controllable and her alleged involuntary sleeping spells were neither brought to the attention of, nor diagnosed by, any of the examining physicians.

Therefore, we find that the Secretary's decision was supported by substantial evidence, and hence, we affirm.

19790131

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