A. Standard of Review of Agency Decisions
The District Court, when reviewing a decision by an ALJ, must undertake a plenary review of the record. The court is constrained to regard as conclusive any factual finding of the Secretary that is "supported by substantial evidence." 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1970); Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 964 (2d Cir. 1991). "It is the function of the Secretary, not [this court], to resolve evidentiary conflicts and to appraise the credibility of witnesses . . . ." Carroll v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 705 F.2d 638, 642 (2d Cir. 1983). Therefore, even if the Secretary's factual findings do not reflect what this court considers to be the preponderance of the evidence, as long as they are supported by substantial evidence they must be respected. Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1212, 75 L. Ed. 2d 447, 103 S. Ct. 1207 (1983). To act otherwise is to exceed the scope of review mandated by Congress.
B. The Decision of the ALJ is Supported By Substantial Evidence
The ALJ has found that Mr. Vincent was not disabled prior to September 30, 1989. The ALJ determined that, while Mr. Vincent could not have resumed the type of work he had formerly done, he was capable of performing a sedentary job, of which there are a significant number in the national economy. Mr. Vincent avers that the ALJ's findings are not supported by substantial evidence.
Magistrate Judge Smith recommends that the case be remanded to the agency for further factual development. His recommendation is rejected. The record before the court contains substantial evidence supporting the Ail's decision, and that decision shall be affirmed.
C. The Social Security Act
An applicant for Social Security disability benefits is considered to be disabled for the purposes of the Social Security Act (Act) if he is 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 can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less that 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d) (1) (A). This includes not only work the applicant did before his alleged disability, but any work for which he is qualified.
The claimant bears the burden of proving that his disability prevents him from returning to his prior employment. Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d at 967. Once he has done so, however, the burden shifts to the Secretary to prove that there is still gainful work which the claimant can perform and that jobs of that type exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. In evaluating a claim for benefits, the Secretary must consider "(1) objective medical facts; (2) diagnoses or medical opinions based on these facts; (3) subjective evidence of pain and disability testified to by the claimant and family or others; and (4) the claimant's educational background, age, and work experience." Rivera v. Schweiker, 717 F.2d 719, 723 (2d Cir. 1983).
It is to the above four areas which this court must look in reviewing the Secretary's decision that the Mr. Vincent was not disabled. Id. When engaging in such review, the court bears in mind that the intent of the Act is inclusion rather than exclusion, and that it should be liberally applied. Id.
The Secretary concedes that Mr. Vincent has met his burden by proving that his 1984 back injury prevented him from returning to his prior employment.
The burden has thus shifted to the Secretary to prove that there were still significant numbers of jobs that claimant was, at least prior to September 30, 1989, capable of performing.
The Supreme Court has held that the Secretary's burden must be divided into two parts, each to be evaluated separately. Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-61, 76 L. Ed. 2d 66, 103 S. Ct. 1952 (1982). First, the ALJ must assess the claimant's job qualifications, considering his or her "physical ability, age, education and work experience." Id. at 460. In the present case, the ALJ found that Mr. Vincent was capable of performing sedentary work. Second, the ALJ must determine "whether jobs exist in the national economy that a person having the claimant's qualifications could perform." Id. at 461. Using the medical-vocational guidelines promulgated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services,
the ALJ in the present case determined that there was a substantial number of jobs that Mr. Vincent could have done. This court must evaluate whether there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's finding on each prong of the Supreme Court's test.
1. The ALJ's finding that claimant was capable of doing sedentary work is supported by substantial evidence.
After reviewing the entire record, this court finds that there is substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's finding that Mr. Vincent was capable of doing sedentary work. This conclusion follows from the objective medical facts, diagnoses and medical opinions based on those facts, evidence of subjective pain, and inferences drawn from the record as a whole.
a. Doctors' Reports
A close reading of the record kept by Mr. Vincent's attending physician, Dr. Hootnick, reveals the following observations:
January 23, 1985: "[Patient] could probably do a sitting job." T at 172.