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SALVATI v. HECKLER

April 7, 1986

REGINA SALVATI, Plaintiff
v.
MARGARET M. HECKLER, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: TENNEY

TENNEY, J.

The plaintiff, Regina Salvati ("Salvati"), brought this action under Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act ("Act"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (1982), seeking review of a final determination of the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("Secretary"), denying Salvati federal disability insurance benefits. The parties have cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). The plaintiff claims that she is disabled because she suffers from a heart condition, chest pains, severe osteoarthritis of the hands and feet, and impaired vision. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the Secretary's determination is not supported by substantial evidence. The Secretary's decision is therefore reversed.

 BACKGROUND

 The instant matter first came to this court in 1982, after the Secretary denied the plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits. On appeal, the court remanded the case to the Secretary because a complete administrative record could not be prepared. The Appeals Council remanded the case to an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") for further proceedings.

 The ALJ, who considered the matter de novo, held a hearing on February 23, 1984. The plaintiff was the only witness. On April 26, 1984, the ALJ issued a recommended decision, finding that the plaintiff was not disabled prior to March 31, 1981, the date on which the plaintiff last met the eligibility requirements for disability insurance. *fn1" The Appeals Council adopted the ALJ's recommended decision, and issued a decision on July 31, 1984 denying plaintiff's claim. That decision is now before the Court.

 The plaintiff, who was born in 1936, has a high school education and two years of college. Her prior work was clerical in nature, and included bookkeeping and typing. The plaintiff testified that she left her last position because of chest pains and dizziness, and because the arthritis in her hands prevented her from using a pen or pencil. The plaintiff testified that she suffers from arthritis in her hands, feet, legs and back, and she demonstrated that she could not make a fist with either hand, because of the arthritis and swelling in her fingers. She also testified that she continues to suffer from shortness of breath and chest pains, and that she suffers from headaches as a result of eyestrain. She testified that she is effectively blind in the left eye and that her right eye vision is blurry. She further testified to a progressive loss of weight and accompanying weakness. *fn2"

 The medical evidence consists of reports from several physicians. The plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. C. C. Rametta, submitted a number of reports from 1980 to 1984. In a letter to the Appeals Council, dated September 15, 1980, *fn3" Dr. Rametta stated that Salvati suffered from a heart condition-- mitral valve prolapse--and from chest pain, palpitations and arrhythmias. Dr. Rametta also indicated that Salvati had a significant condition of osteoarthritis, and he concluded that Salvati was "disabled from working in any capacity."

 In a second report, dated March 2, 1981, Dr. Rametta diagnosed the plaintiff as suffering from mitral valve prolapse, arthritis of the hands and knees, and amblyopia of the left eye. He also reported that the plaintiff had intermittent angina. Dr. Rametta concluded in that report that Salvati could do work requiring her to sit for eight hours per day, so long as the work did not require fine motor skills.

 In 1982, Dr. Rametta wrote three letters in which he reported that Salvati suffered from a variety of physical ailments including: (1) mitral valve prolapse with associated chest pain, (2) angina with cardiac rhythm disturbances, (3) shortness of breath, (4) osteoarthritis of the hands with multiple spur formations, and (5) amblyopia of the left eye. *fn4" Dr. Rametta reported that Salvati was on medication to treat the mitral valve prolapse, and that she was being evaluated with regard to progressive weight loss. In each letter, Dr. Rametta stated that he believed Salvati to be completely and totally disabled. In March 1984, Dr. Rametta again stated that Salvati is "clearly and unequivocally disabled," and he stated that tests indicate that Salvati may be suffering from lupus disease.

 Three reports were also submitted during 1981-1982 by Dr. A. A. Davachi, the doctor who treated Salvati for her heart condition. Dr. Davachi diagnosed the plaintiff as suffering from mitral valve prolapse with intermittent chest pain, for which he prescribed a beta-blocker, Cor-gard.

 In August 1981, Dr. B. M. Berger performed a consultative examination. Dr. Berger indicated as part of his "diagnostic impression" that the plaintiff suffered from chest pain, possible angina pectoris, mitral valve prolapse by history, and osteodegenerative arthritis. Dr. Berger was of the opinion that the plaintiff could sit for a maximum of four hours and could not stand or walk for any significant period of time.

 Finally, in March 1984, Dr. Reuben Mokotoff performed a consultative examination for the Administration. His findings were consistent with those described above, and he noted that the plaintiff was taking Corgard, Vistaril, Motrin and Pen-V-K. He stated that the plaintiff was "markedly underweight," and that she could not straighten out her hands because of osteoarthritis.

 After reviewing the record and hearing the plaintiff testify, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff had not proved the existence of a significant ...


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