Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Bramwell, J.), affirming the denial of plaintiff's claim for Supplemental Security Income benefits under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Newman and Winter, Circuit Judges, and MacMahon, District Judge.*fn*
MacMAHON, District Judge:
Maria Lopez appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Henry Bramwell, Judge), affirming the denial of her claim for Supplemental Security Income benefits under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. She challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the denial, the legal standards applied by the Secretary, and, in light of her lack of counsel, the fairness of the hearing afforded her. We conclude that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") failed to protect the rights of this pro se claimant and reverse the judgment of the district court with the direction to remand the case to the ALJ for a new hearing.
Maria Lopez is 60 years old and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. She moved to this country from Puerto Rico about 10 years ago and has not worked during that time. She has only a second grade level education, and her work experience in Puerto Rico consisted of domestic labor and picking coffee.
Appellant first applied for benefits on February 28, 1980, basing her claim on a number of health problems. She suffers from diabetes, angina pectoris, hypertension, and arthritis. Her application was denied both initially and on reconsideration. She then requested a hearing which was granted, and, on November 12, 1980, she appeared pro se, accompanied by a woman friend whose proffered testimony in corroboration of appellant's claim was precluded by the ALJ. Since appellant speaks very little English, she testified through an interpreter. The only other witness was Dr. Israeli Jaffe, who acted as the Secretary's medical advisor. The record before the ALJ also included four medical reports by appellant's treating physician, Dr. Francisco DeLara, another by Dr. Nathaniel Reich, a consultative physician for the New York State Department of Social Services, and still other records of two hospital visits.*fn1 The record also included a January 18, 1980 report from the New York City Human Resources Administration classifying Ms. Lopez as "permanently unemployable" due to angina pectoris. After considering the evidence, the ALJ concluded that appellant did not suffer from a "severe" impairment, as defined by the Social Security Act and the regulations,*fn2 and thus denied her claim.
We start with the well-established principle in this circuit that a claimant for disability benefits is entitled to "a full hearing under the Secretary's regulations and in accordance with the beneficent purposes of the Act." Gold v. Secretary of H.E.W., 463 F.2d 38, 43 (2d Cir. 1972). The Secretary is not obligated to furnish a claimant with counsel, but the ALJ has a special duty to protect the rights of a pro se claimant. Echevarria v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 685 F.2d 751, 755 (2d Cir. 1982); Hankerson v. Harris, 636 F.2d 893, 895 (2d Cir. 1980); Gold, supra, 463 F.2d at 43. When the ALJ fails to develop the record fully, he does not fulfill this duty and the claimant is deprived of a fair hearing. Hankerson, supra, 636 F.2d at 895.
As we have seen, appellant was accompanied at the hearing by a woman friend who intended to testify to facts corroborating appellant's disability. The ALJ, however, made it clear that he saw no reason to listen to appellant's witness. His first reference to the prospective witness was as follows:
ALJ: Now, you brought this young lady in with you to tell me that she helps you shop and helps you do other things. Suppose you tell me about it. I see no need to bring somebody in to corroborate your testimony. You're under oath, and I'll accept what you tell me.
App. at 32-33. Appellant then testified in response to the ALJ's questions that this woman helped her in a number of ways, including such basic daily activities as shopping, cleaning, bathing, and taking injections. She told the ALJ that the woman "helps me in everything that I cannot do for myself." App. at 35. The ALJ then determined that he would not hear appellant's witness because her testimony would be cumulative. The following dialogue occurred at that time:
Q. If I were to call her, would she tell me anything different or more than you have.
Q. Well, I see no need at this time to, to belabor ...