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DUNN v. BOWEN

July 7, 1989

GLADYS DUNN, Plaintiff,
v.
OTIS R. BOWEN, M.D., SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RODRIGUEZ

 This is an action under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review the final decision of the Secretary denying plaintiff's claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. For the reasons set forth, the court will vacate the decision of the Secretary and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

 I.

 Plaintiff, Gladys Dunn, was born July 23, 1923 and was 61 years old at the time of her hearing for disability insurance benefits. She testified that she graduated from nursing school in 1947 and that she occasionally took classes and seminars related to her employment. She was employed as a medical-surgical registered nurse until her disabilities caused her to cease work in April, 1984. Plaintiff claimed that she stopped working because she was unable to ambulate with sufficient speed and dexterity to carry out her duties as a nurse.

 Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on November 1, 1984. Her claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested and was granted a de novo hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) On June 27, 1985 the ALJ issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. On October 24, 1985, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review rendering the ALJ's decision final. Plaintiff filed this action on December 19, 1985.

 II.

 Title 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) (3) set forth the standard of review to be utilized by this court. Upon review, "the findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)(1983). Substantial evidence has been defined as "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 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 83 L. Ed. 126, 59 S. Ct. 206 (1938)); see also Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983). While deference is given to administrative decisions, the court has a responsibility to scrutinize the entire record and if it is not satisfied that the Secretary's decision is supported by substantial evidence then it must reverse or remand accordingly. Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981). In addition, "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) (quoting Curtin v. Harris, 508 F. Supp. 791, 793 (D.N.J. 1981)).

 III.

 Congress has defined disability 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. § 423(d) (1) (A) (1983).

 Disability is determined by the application of a five-step analysis, codified at 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (subpt. P, App. 2) and 416.920 (1988). The five steps are summarized as follows:

 
2. If claimant is found not to be engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Secretary will determine whether the medical evidence indicates that the claimant suffers from a "severe" impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c); 416.920(c) (1988). If not, then claimant is not disabled.
 
3. If the claimant is found to suffer a severe impairment which has lasted or is expected to continue for a period of not less than 12 months, then the Secretary determines whether the impairment is listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P of Reg. No. 4, or is equal to a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d); 416.920(d) (1988). If so, claimant is declared disabled.
 
4. If claimant does not have an Appendix 1 impairment or its equivalent, the Secretary must determine if the claimant is capable of performing her past relevant work despite the severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. § ...

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