This is an action under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.A. § 405(g), to review a decision of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, hereafter the "Secretary," denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits and the establishment of a period of disability. Plaintiff appeals from an order of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York denying his motion for summary judgment and granting a cross-motion of the Secretary for summary judgment and dismissal of the complaint. We think the case called for exercise of the District Court's power under § 205(g) to "order additional evidence to be taken before the Secretary." Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary judgment and the dismissal of the complaint, and remand in order that the District Court may direct further evidence to be so taken.
Section 223 of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.A. § 423, enacted in 1956, provides disability insurance benefits for certain individuals between the ages of 50 and 65 in the event of "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 to be of long-continued and indefinite duration." Section 216(i) (1), 42 U.S.C.A. § 416(i) (1), makes the same definition applicable to § 215(b) (1) (B), 42 U.S.C.A. § 415 (b) (1) (B), enacted in 1954, which excludes periods of disability from the divisor in determining average monthly wages — the so-called "disability freeze."
The plaintiff, Philip Kerner, was born on September 15, 1896. A veteran of World War I, he worked as a carpenter, automobile salesman, and mechanic. In the late 1940s he took up the occupation of reupholstering furniture on a self-employed basis. Apparently he has lived alone for many years. Since the early 1950s, he has had diabetes, which, after six months on insulin, he has controlled by careful diet with a maximum of 1550 calories daily. In June, 1956, he suffered a heart attack; after a day at Beekman Street Hospital, he was transferred to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Brooklyn and remained there until August. The diagnosis was "infarction of the myocardium due to arteriosclerotic coronary thrombosis," "arteriosclerotic heart disease" and "diabetes mellitus"; the final summary reported all these as "Treated. Improved." In September, 1956, he was admitted to the New York State Veterans Camp at Mt. McGregor. He was there until January, 1957, and again from August to December, 1957. On both occasions, as a result of medical examination, he was assigned to a group engaged in no physical activity. Between his stays at Mt. McGregor and thereafter he endeavored to live in New York. He found this endeavor well nigh impossible since his only income was a non-service connected disability pension of $66.15 a month awarded by the Veterans Administration and he required a room where he could prepare his own meals. On July 15, 1958, he was admitted to the Veterans Administration domiciliary at Bath, N. Y., where he has since been.
In October, 1956 and May, 1957, Kerner applied to establish a period of disability and for a disability pension under the provisions of the Social Security Act cited above. The Bureau of Old Age and Survivors Insurance denied these applications in November, 1957. Kerner requested a hearing; this was held before a referee at Bath a year later, in November, 1958. After reviewing the medical and other evidence which we will summarize below, and conceding that applicant "would be unable to return to the strenuous work which he had been doing as a self-employed furniture repairman," the referee concluded "it does not appear that his physical condition has been so seriously affected that he would be completely unable to engage in any kind of substantial gainful activity, including some form of light or part-time sedentary work" and that the "fact that work which would be within his capacity to perform may not be readily attainable, cannot be substituted as standards of
The evidence left no doubt that plaintiff met the requirement of a "medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected * * * to be of long-continued and indefinite duration." What was doubtful was whether this had caused "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity."
The Regulations promulgated by the Department, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1501(d) and (e), give as an example of such a disabling impairment:
The Veterans Administration physician at Mt. McGregor found in August, 1957, that Kerner suffered dyspnea "on moderate exertion"; his own physician found in February, 1958, that he manifested this "on slight exertion." The doctor who examined him for the New York State Department of Social Welfare in April, 1958, reported that "he gets an occasional chest pain and dyspnea on walking upstairs, or other moderate exertion. This is relieved by nitroglycerine and sedatives." This evidence would seem to place Kerner within the example given by the Regulations. However, the Regulations tell us also, in characteristic Janus-faced fashion, that, on the one hand, "The existence of one of these impairments (or of an impairment of greater severity), however, will not in and of itself always permit a finding that an individual is under a disability as defined in the law," and, on the other, "Conditions which fall short of the levels of severity indicated must also be evaluated in terms of whether they do in fact prevent the individual from engaging in any substantial gainful activity."
The evidence on the crucial issue whether plaintiff's medically determinable impairment had resulted in "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity," was exceedingly unsatisfactory. Plaintiff was not represented by counsel at the hearing. Even the cold type of the record shows that he was highly disturbed.
None of the doctors testified and few of the medical reports deal in any illuminating fashion with applicant's ability to work. In September, 1956, the Veterans Administration found Kerner had a general medical disability that was considered to be permanently and totally disabling. The Government challenges the probative effect of this because the statute there controlling speaks of a "disability which is sufficient to render it impossible for the average person to follow a substantially gainful occupation," 38 U.S.C. § 502, whereas the Social Security Act proceeds on an individual basis; this blunts the point but does not eliminate it. In December, 1957, the New York Vocational Rehabilitation Agency refused to accept a referral of applicant, stating "Impairment too severe." On August 23, 1957, the Mt. McGregor physician, in answer to a question in a Department form, "Have you advised applicant not to work?", stated, "Presently in camp, doesn't work"; this report designated Kerner's cardiac functional capacity under American Heart Association ratings as "Marked limitation. III-D."
The Government relies heavily, as it did successfully in the District Court, on the provision in § 205(g) that "The findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive * * *". Accepting this as we do, we think there was here no substantial evidence that would enable the Secretary to make any reasoned determination whether applicant was "unable to engage in substantial and gainful activity (commensurate with his age, educational attainments, training experience, mental and physical capacities). * * *". Teeter v. Flemming, 7 Cir., 1959, 270 F.2d 871, 874; see Flemming v. Booker, 5 Cir., 1960, 283 F.2d 321. Such a determination requires resolution of two issues — what can applicant do, and what employment opportunities are there for a man who can do only what applicant can do? Mere theoretical ability to engage in substantial gainful activity is not enough if no reasonable opportunity for this is available, Aaron v. Fleming, D.C.M.D.Ala.1958, 168 F.Supp. 291, 295.
Here there was insufficient evidence on either issue. In contrast to the forms in use by many government agencies and private firms, designed to disclose the individual's ability in particular activities such as standing, stooping, lifting, walking, and numerous others, and the statement in the Department's own booklet "Disability and Social Security," that, in cases like the applicant's, evaluation teams should explore "the history, effect of exposure to cold, effect of activity, type and the severity of the pain," Disability Insurance Fact Book, infra note 10, p. 28, here there was basically only a catalog of the names of Kerner's various complaints and contradictory conclusions of the vaguest sort, with no real attempt to demonstrate the extent of impairment of function or the residual capacities he yet possesses. Unsatisfactory as all this was, the evidence as to employment opportunities was even less. Here is a man, admittedly able to do only light work, and this at a location reachable without undue exertion, and presenting a prospective employer with the unattractive combination of age, heart disease, diabetes and acute worry about himself. No one of these factors might be fatal to employment — indeed, the constellation of them may not be — but the Secretary had nothing save speculation to warrant a finding that an applicant thus handicapped could in fact obtain substantial gainful employment.
The Government says that dismissal of Kerner's action was right even if all this be so, because he had the burden of proof and did not meet this. It points to the provisions of § 216(i) (1) and § 223(c) (2), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 416(i) (1) and 423(c) (2), that "An individual shall not be considered to be under a disability unless he furnishes such proof of the existence thereof as may be required." We may agree that, under the cited sections
We therefore reverse so much of the judgment as grants summary judgment for the defendant and dismisses the complaint, with instructions to the District Court to remand to the Secretary to take further evidence.