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BRYANT v. BOWEN

March 3, 1988

ELSIE BRYANT, Plaintiff,
v.
HON. OTIS R. BOWEN, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BISSELL

 This action is brought under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for review of the final decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("Secretary") denying plaintiff's claims for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disabled Widows' insurance benefits ("DWB").

 FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff, Elsie Bryant, was born on August 4, 1935. At the time of the administrative hearing she was 50 years old. She had a tenth-grade education, and had not been employed since 1955. At the time of the hearing her height was 5 ft. 6 in. and her weight was between 290 and 300 pounds.

 Plaintiff's husband, Carnelius Bryant, died fully insured in 1981, and plaintiff had not remarried at the time of the hearing.

 Plaintiff initially filed an application for SSI benefits in April of 1983, alleging disability due to back pain, high blood pressure, swollen feet and shortness of breath. The application was denied initially on June 28, 1983. Plaintiff's request for reconsideration on September 27, 1983 was apparently denied as well, although this denial is not shown in the record, because plaintiff filed a second initial application on July 10, 1984, which was also denied, and a third on January 8, 1985. The third application was denied initially on March 13, 1985, and upon reconsideration on April 17, 1985. On May 14, 1985, plaintiff, approaching the statutory minimum age of 50 years, filed an application for Disabled Widows benefits for the first time, and also requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") for consideration of both the new DWB claim and the existing SSI claim.

 The ALJ held a hearing on August 12, 1985, at which plaintiff testified with counsel. On August 29, 1985 the ALJ concluded, in separate decisions, that plaintiff was not entitled to benefits under either SSI or DWB. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council of both decisions, and the requests were denied on October 31, 1985. This denial had the effect of making the ALJ's decision on each claim the final decision of the Secretary.

 Scope of Review

 The conclusions of the ALJ, which represent the final findings of fact by the Secretary, must be upheld by the reviewing court if they are supported by "substantial evidence." 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). "Substantial evidence" has been defined to mean "such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971). "However, 'even if the Secretary's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence [a] court may review whether the administrative determination was made upon correct legal standards.'" Friedberg v. Schweiker, 721 F.2d 445, 447 (3d Cir. 1983) (reprinting district court opinion) (quoting Curtin v. Harris, 508 F. Supp. 791, 793 (D.N.J. 1981)).

 Applicable Standards

 In order to find a claimant eligible for benefits under SSI or DWB, the ALJ must determine, inter alia, that the claimant was "disabled" at the time under consideration. The definition of "disabled," however, as well as the method by which disability is determined, is not the same for purposes of SSI eligibility as it is for DWB eligibility.

 Under SSI, disability is defined as the inability "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 has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Pursuant to the Act, regulations have been established providing a five-step inquiry for evaluating disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). In addition, a claimant's impairment must meet the twelve-month duration requirement before being found disabling.

 The five-step inquiry proceeds as follows: *fn1"

 
1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be "disabled" regardless of medical ...

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