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Gold v. Secretary of Health

decided: June 19, 1972.


Moore, Smith and Hays Circuit Judges.

Author: Smith

J. JOSEPH SMITH, Circuit Judge:

Mrs. Minnie Gold appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Jacob Mishler, Chief Judge) granting the government's motion for summary judgment and dismissing her complaint requesting that the court reverse a final decision of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare denying her a period of disability and disability benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 416, 423. The sole issue for this court is whether the decision of the Secretary is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). We conclude that his decision is not so sustained and order it reversed and the case remanded for calculation of a period of disability and award of benefits to Mrs. Gold.

Mrs. Gold was born in Poland in 1911 and was raised in Germany, where she attended the equivalent of high school and took some business courses. She was forced into hiding in Belgium in 1943 and at that time contracted the tuberculosis from which her subsequent lung ailments have developed. On arrival in this country in July, 1949, she was detained for three weeks at the U.S. Public Health Hospital in New York for observation of her lung condition. She became a citizen in 1956. From 1950 to 1957, she worked at a total of thirty to forty jobs, most of which involved hand-sewing for women's garment manufacturers. Mrs. Gold testified at the hearing that she was discharged or forced to leave job after job because of ill health and lack of stamina. Her most prosperous year was 1952, in which she earned $1403; in only three of the next five years did she earn more than $500. In 1957 she "broke down" and received state disability payments for an unspecified period. She earned no income in 1958 or 1959; she testified that her doctor told her at that time to find work less exhausting than that of a seamstress.

In February 1959 the West German government awarded Mrs. Gold and her husband reparations for the treatment accorded them during the Second World War. Mrs. Gold received a total of $5800 and her husband received approximately $10,000.*fn1 They continue to receive small monthly pensions from that same source. Despite this influx of money, Mrs. Gold took a course in book-keeping at the Madison Business School and, having received a "certificate of study" in October, 1959, she returned to work as a bookkeeper at the YMCA in February 1960. Although the work was light, Mrs. Gold found herself too ill to perform it. In March she contracted an active case of pneumonia and was forced to quit. She has not worked since.

On July 11, 1969 Mrs. Gold applied under the Social Security Act for the establishment of a period of disability, 42 U.S.C. § 416, and the payment of disability benefits, 42 U.S.C. § 423. When her application was rejected and the rejection sustained on reconsideration, she applied for a hearing. The examiner denied her claim and the Appeals Council affirmed the denial on April 2, 1970, making it the final decision of the Secretary. Mrs. Gold brought an action in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the agency decision. The district court felt that Mrs. Gold had done credibly on the difficult factual issues in the case but concluded that the decision of the examiner was based on "substantial evidence" and must be affirmed.

In order to qualify for disability payments under the Social Security Act, the wage earner must show disability on or prior to the last date on which she was insured under the Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(c); Brandon v. Gardner, 377 F.2d 488 (4th Cir.1967). No one disputes that for Mrs. Gold that date was June 30, 1961. To receive benefits, Mrs. Gold must have been on or prior to that date unable "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). The claimant bears the burden of proving her disability with "such medical and other evidence of the existence thereof as the Secretary may require." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) (5).*fn2 The standard for eligibility is to be applied in light of the fact that "the Social Security Act is a remedial statute, to be broadly construed and liberally applied." Haberman v. Finch, 418 F.2d 664, 667 (2d Cir.1969). See Floyd v. Finch, 441 F.2d 73, 76-78, 104-105 (6th Cir.1971) (McAllister, Senior Circuit Judge, dissenting). This court, in reviewing the determination of the Secretary, must sustain that conclusion if it is supported by "substantial evidence" on the record as a whole. Franklin v. Secretary of HEW, 393 F.2d 640 (2d Cir.1968); Kerner v. Flemming, 283 F.2d 916 (2d Cir.1960); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

There was no doubt, as the examiner stated in his opinion, that appellant was totally disabled at the time of the hearing. The question is whether this condition existed prior to June 30, 1961, the crucial date for coverage under the Act. Unrepresented by counsel at the hearing Mrs. Gold testified and presented numerous medical reports to support her claim.

A January 1963 report by Dr. Abraham Cohen, who treated appellant for her lung diseases, states that

Mrs. Gold suffers from severe pulmonary fibrosis*fn3 with resultant chronic asthmatic bronchitis and bronchiectesis.*fn4 All this stems from tuberculosis which she incurred during 1943. As a result of this condition, she suffers severely from cough, expectoration, periodic hemoptysis,*fn5 wheezing and dyspnea [difficult or labored breathing]. Secondarily, she suffers from malnutrition and anemia. Consequently, I consider her disabled 100%.*fn6 She not only is unable to pursue a gainful occupation, but cannot carry out her household duties.

Thus, eighteen months after the expiration of her insured status, Mrs. Gold was found by her doctor to be totally disabled. "Evidence bearing upon an applicant's condition subsequent to the date upon which the earning requirement was last met is pertinent evidence in that it may disclose the severity and continuity of impairments existing before the earning requirement date or may identify additional impairments which could reasonably be presumed to have been present and to have imposed limitations as of the earning requirement date." Carnevale v. Gardner, 393 F.2d 889, 890 (2d Cir.1968).

Other doctors' reports tended to show that Mrs. Gold's disabling condition did exist in June of 1961. A 1969 report by Dr. Cohen states that he first saw her in 1956, when she complained of cough, wheezing, and dyspnea, indicative to him of inactive pulmonary tuberculosis and bronchiectesis. He saw her periodically from 1958 to early 1962; during that period she began to spit blood and was afflicted with gallstones and a thyroid condition.

Dr. Jacob Glenn, a general practitioner who treated Mrs. Gold in 1959 and thereafter, reported in January 1970 that he felt that Mrs. Gold's lung disease had incapacitated her since March 31, 1960, such that she was unable to work. Although he did not keep office records more than five years, he stated in the report that "Minnie Gold came to my office during [1960-1962] once or twice a month." The report also mentioned the gallbladder pathology and severe anemia. In 1960 Mrs. Gold also saw Dr. Henry Mason, who found her suffering from anemia, undernourishment, anxiety neurosis with depression, tachycardia [fluttering and rapid heart beat], and blood pressure problems. In early 1961 he noted "heaviness of chest" and tachycardia. She suffered a respiratory infection in May, 1961, was weak, malnourished and anemic in July and was coughing and spitting blood in August such that she was ordered to bed. In early 1962 she had another acute respiratory infection.

These reports, covering a time span encompassing 1961, make a strong case for the conclusion that Mrs. Gold was disabled as of June of that year.*fn7 In assessing disability, "all complaints [of a claimant] must be considered together in determining her work capacity." Burns v. Celebrezze, 234 F. Supp. 1019, 1020 (W.D.N.C.1964). The worsening lung condition must therefore be considered in the context of continuing anemia, malnutrition, gallbladder and heart ...

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