The opinion of the court was delivered by: CURTIN
This is an appeal from the denial of plaintiff's application for Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Plaintiff Albert Meyer claims his list of impairments, including painful back ailments, knee problems heart-related problems, rales and wheezing in his chest, dizziness, blackouts, headaches, and a severe emotional disorder renders him disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
Albert Meyer was fifty-four years old when he first applied for Social Security disability benefits. He completed high school through tenth grade, and worked regularly between 1945 and 1979. Beginning in 1948, Meyer worked as a steel fabricator in a Buffalo plant. In that capacity he cut, reshaped, assembled, and welded steel. At times he lifted loads of up to 150 pounds when hoists could not be used. Meyer "snapped his back" at work in February 1979 while bending a 16-guage pice of steel.
He has not worked since that accident.
Meyer applied for Social Security disability benefits on October 26, 1979. After his application was denied both initially and on reconsideration, he appeared at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Meyer was accompanied only by his wife who also testified briefly on his behalf. A vocational expert was the only person to testify in addition to the Meyers.
At the hearing, Mr. Meyer described his numerous symptoms. He explained he has trouble walking, that his knees puff up, sitting strains his lower back, and the longer he sits "the higher it goes" (Record, p. 28). He testified he cannot stoop, bend, pull, or push, but he could lift up to fifteen to twenty pounds (Record, p. 29). Despite his many other ailments, Meyer described his chief impairments as his back, ankles, swelling, and his nervous condition. According to Meyer, his back pain is constant and severe, and flares up if any strain is placed upon it. Finally, Meyer mentioned his spells of dizziness and his nervous condition several times during his hearing.
The various medical records before the Administrative Law Judge ascribe Meyer's physical problems to various causes. The diagnoses include vertebrae disc space narrowing, spondylolisthesis, arthritis (Record, p. 85), swelling of his legs, edema, plebitis (Record, pp. 78, 79, 89, 90, 91), arthritis in his knee (Record, p. 72), hypertension, excessive blood pressure, systolic heart murmur, and a heart click (Record, pp. 69, 76-78, 81, 82). The Veterans Administration Hospital Summary Sheet also referred, inter alia, to Meyer's essential labile hypertension and anxiety reaction (Record, p. 69).
Despite these various diagnoses, the Administrative Law Judge found that Meyer's only serious disabilities were the arthritis in his spine and right knee, and the possible degenerative disc disease, and that these impairments prevented Meyer from performing his former work as a steel fabricator. See Administrative Law Judge's Findings, Nos. 2, 5, (Record, p. 15). He nevertheless found that Meyer's physical infirmities did not prevent him from transferring his job skills to sedentary work. Applying these factors to Table No. 2 of Appendix 2, 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Rules 202.034, 202.12, the Administrative Law Judge ruled that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
To be entitled to Social Security disability benefits, a claimant's health must be so impaired that he or she is unable to perform either his or her previous work or any other substantial gainful work existing in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) (2) (A); Parker v. Harris, 626 F.2d 225, 230-31 (2d Cir. 1980). Once a claimant has demonstrated that his or her medical impairment prevents him or her from returning to his or her former work, the burden of persuasion shifts to the Secretary. The Secretary must show the existence of alternative substantial gainful employment which exists in the national economy and which the claimant can perform, given his or her physical and mental capabilities, age, education, experience, and training. Parker v. Harris, supra at 630.
A court must affirm the Secretary's decision if it is supported by "substantial evidence," that is, relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Parker v. Harris, supra at 231-32. If such evidence is lacking, or if errors of law were made during the administrative process, the reviewing court may reverse or remand the decision for further administrative proceedings. Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979).
A. Disability Determination
In reaching his decision, the Administrative Law Judge disregarded several major considerations governing Social Security disability determinations. The first concerns the ...