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Miles v. Harris

decided: March 24, 1981.


Appeal from a judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Howard G. Munson, Judge, affirming decision of defendant-appellee Secretary of Health and Human Services that plaintiff was not disabled for the purpose of receiving disability and disability insurance benefits. Affirmed.

Before Kaufman, Oakes and Meskill, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kaufman

Hanna Miles, who has a long history of lower back and leg pain, first applied for disability and disability insurance benefits in May 1974. The Social Security Administration (SSA) granted the application, and awarded benefits with an onset date of March 1974. In November 1977, however, the SSA found Miles no longer disabled and terminated her eligibility. Mrs. Miles challenges that decision.

Following the termination, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing de novo to determine Miles's eligibility. Miles testified about her condition, her part-time employment as a waitress, and the pain she constantly faced. A vocational expert testified that, based on Miles's condition, age, educational background, work experience, and residual transferable skills, there was substantial gainful work she could perform.

The ALJ also had physicians' reports and hospital records before him. The medical evidence revealed that Mrs. Miles first sought treatment for her back problems in 1970 and was hospitalized for seven weeks in 1972. Her physician, Dr. Donald Delahanty, ordered her hospitalized in 1974 on three occasions. On the first, in March, she was diagnosed as having a herniated disc, and an operative procedure called a laminectomy was performed to remove the disc. During the second, in October, a myelogram revealed no abnormalities. In November, Miles underwent another laminectomy. In 1975, Miles was hospitalized once for recurrent discomfort and was diagnosed as having post-laminectomy pain. Dr. Delahanty examined Miles in May 1976 and reported that she still complained of pain and was totally disabled.

In September 1977, however, an examination by Dr. Daniel Elstein, a consultative orthopaedic surgeon, revealed that Miles "stands erect" and has "no measurable calf or thigh atrophy." Dr. Elstein found that she could sit and stand for approximately four hours and that she still had the use of her hands. He also noted in his report that Miles suffered only mild pain and was capable of doing light work.

Mrs. Miles was hospitalized once again in October 1977. In December, Dr. Delahanty reported to the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) (now the Secretary of Health and Human Services) that Mrs. Miles faced several physical restrictions: standing one hour; walking one block; sitting one hour; bending to a minimal degree; lifting less than ten pounds; carrying less than ten pounds. Miles nevertheless started to work again in March 1978 at a local bakery-coffee shop, working four hours a day, two days per week. She continued to work on this limited schedule until December 1978.

On the basis of this evidence, the ALJ found in July 1978 that Miles was not disabled because her physical impairments did not cause severe functional losses or restrictions. He discussed Miles's hospital reports, citing the medical findings of Dr. Delahanty and Dr. Elstein, and relying primarily on Dr. Elstein's report for his conclusions. The ALJ recognized that pain is subjective, but noted that continuous pain leaves a "stigmata" voluntary or involuntary restrictions in the use of the affected body system. Finding no evidence of atrophy or physical deterioration, he discounted her testimony and found that she was not precluded from engaging in all work activities. The ALJ found that substantial gainful employment for Miles existed in the national economy.

Miles petitioned the Appeals Council for review. In evaluating the ALJ's report, the Council examined additional hospital reports and physical therapist's reports which became available in late 1978 and early 1979, after the ALJ's examination of the matter. The Council found that these reports were not sufficient to justify either reopening of the case or overturning the ALJ's decision, which, as a result, became the decision of the Secretary. Miles filed suit in the Northern District of New York in April 1979, and after Magistrate Conan recommended affirmance, Judge Munson granted the Secretary's motion for judgment on the pleadings. We affirm.

We find that the Secretary's determination that Mrs. Miles is not eligible for disability and disability insurance benefits is grounded on findings supported by "substantial evidence." 402 U.S.C. § 405(g) (1976); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971); Dorman v. Harris, 633 F.2d 1035, 1036 (2d Cir. 1980). In evaluating the medical evidence, the ALJ discussed in detail Miles's hospital records and the reports of Dr. Delahanty and Dr. Elstein. Having outlined the evidence before him, the ALJ satisfied his duty to state his findings of fact and conclusions of law.

In reaching a conclusion as to Miles's alleged disability, the ALJ properly considered objective medical facts, diagnoses or medical opinions based on these facts, subjective evidence of pain or disability, and her educational background, age, and work experience. Parker v. Harris, 626 F.2d 225, 231 (2d Cir. 1980). Rejecting Mrs. Miles's subjective claims that her pain was disabling, the ALJ reasonably relied on the objective conclusions of Dr. Elstein and on his own evaluation of Miles's credibility. Notwithstanding the apparent inconsistency between the reports of Dr. Delahanty and that of Dr. Elstein, we are unwilling to require an ALJ explicitly to reconcile every conflicting shred of medical testimony, as Judge Oakes suggests in his dissenting opinion, infra. It is sufficient that the ALJ noted that he carefully considered the exhibits presented in evidence in reaching his decision. Finally, since other medical reports evaluated by the Appeals Council did not address Miles's previous condition, see id. at 232, they are relevant only for determining disability after the date of the ALJ's decision. That issue is not before us in this case.*fn1

We also reject the contention that a procedural error committed by the ALJ warrants reversal or remand. While the ALJ erred in noting that Miles's part-time job, for which her remuneration was less than $170 per month, constituted "substantial gainful activity," 20 C.F.R. § 404.1534(b)(2)(iv) (1980), there was "substantial evidence" of the availability of other substantial gainful employment in the vicinity presented at the hearing by the vocational expert. This error, therefore, was harmless.

The judgment is affirmed.

OAKES, Circuit Judge ...

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