The Secretary denied disability insurance and SSI benefits to a 37 year-old man who suffers from hip and back problems, a hearing deficit, and a psychological condition. The district court found substantial evidence to support the Secretary's decision and affirmed. Because the Secretary failed to follow her own regulations, we vacate and remand for further consideration under proper legal standards.
The medical evidence in the record shows that in April 1979 Reeves fractured his hip in a fall, was hospitalized for ten days, and his hip was pinned. At this time, "early changes of degenerative hip disease" were seen. 2 Rec. at 168.
Dr. Blanton, Reeves's treating physician, examined claimant in February 1980. He diagnosed deafness, chronic lumbar spine derangement, painful left hip from hip pain and plate, and extreme tension. Id. at 159. Dr. Blanton reported that "[i]n my opinion he is disabled from any regular gainful work." Id.
Dr. Blanton conducted another exam in November 1980. He noted that the patient had
Id. at 160.
Dr. Branning examined the claimant for SSA in May 1980. He concluded that Reeves suffered from:
Id. at 189. The doctor noted that "[t]he patient might very well benefit from further evaluation from an orthopedic surgeon." Id.
After the examination, Dr. Branning filled out a physical capacities evaluation. He concluded that claimant could lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally to 25 pounds frequently, could stand and walk one hour a day, could sit and work as much as six out of eight hours, and was restricted as to pushing and pulling (arm and/or leg controls), climbing and balancing, and bending and/or stooping movements. Id. at 190.
Dr. Branning evaluated Reeves again in February 1981. He diagnosed
Id. at 193. The doctor concluded that
A radiologist, Dr. Sewell, examined Reeves in January 1981 and found slight narrowing in the space at L-5, S-1, degenerative changes in the hip, and no identifiable abnormalities in the femoral shaft. Id. at 194.
Taylor, a clinical audiologist, examined Reeves for SSA. He found that Reeves appeared to have
Id. at 183-84.
After this evaluation, Reeves received a hearing aid for one ear. Id. at 49. With the hearing aid he "can do pretty well," and the aid "doesn't make it perfect but it helps." Id.
LeMay, Reeves's counselor at the North Central Alabama Mental Health Center, diagnosed inadequate personality. Id. at 203. He found Reeves
Dr. Haney, a neuropsychiatrist, examined Reeves for SSA. He reported that
Id. at 204-05.
Reeves applied for disability insurance and SSI benefits in September 1980. His application was denied initially and on reconsideration.
At the hearing Reeves indicated that he believed he became disabled approximately two years earlier when he fractured his hip. Id. at 44-45. He also stated that he had had high blood pressure five or six years ago and had to be hospitalized because he had had a blackout and was in a car accident. Id. at 45. He explained that he was not presently on any medicine because he could not afford it. Id. at 46. However, he noted that no doctor had prescribed any medicine since he had high blood pressure. Id. He reported that he sleeps well sometimes but not others, can go grocery shopping, reads the newspapers occasionally, rides his bike, watches TV, can walk around the block, can stand for a while if he has first sat, and can lift five pounds and even ten as long as he did not have to do so all day. Id. at 46-48. He testified that he cannot climb stairs and does not drive. Id. at 47-48. In response to a question from the ALJ, Reeves stated that he thought he could be an attendant at a self-service gas station, although he does not like to handle money. Id. at 52.
Id. at 29-30.
The Appeals Council denied review. Reeves appealed to the district court, which affirmed the denial of benefits. Reeves timely appealed to this court.
In his summary of the evidence the ALJ stated that "[l]imitation of motion and pain are shown by subjective means entirely as physicians have found no pathology or radiologically demonstrable deficits." Id. at 29. This is an erroneous conclusion, as Drs. Blanton, Branning, and Sewell all diagnosed hip or back problems. However, the error is harmless; as appears from our discussion below, the ALJ considered the medical evidence when making the disability determination.
When evaluating Reeves's claim of disabling pain, the ALJ noted that "[t]here is very little objective clinical evidence of conditions which could precipitate disabling pain." Id. at 30. The ALJ did recognize that "[i]t is clear that the claimant ... has experienced some pain. However, the undersigned does not believe that taken as a whole the record shows him to be incapable of all work activities." Id. The record supports this determination. Dr. Blanton, Reeves's treating doctor, found that he could not stand for more than one hour without sitting down, could push 25 pounds but not more than twice in one hour, and could not bend, pull, stretch, lift, climb, or stand. Id. at 160. Dr. Branning determined that claimant could lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally to 25 pounds frequently, could stand and walk one hour a day and sit six out of eight hours, and was restricted as to pushing and pulling movements (arm and/or leg controls), climbing and balancing, and bending and/or stooping movements. Id. at 190. Reeves himself testified that he could lift five pounds and ten pounds as long as he did not have to do it all day, could stand if he sits for a while, could walk at least a block at a time, and could ride a bike. Id. at 47-48. He also explained that he thought he could be an attendant at a self-service gas station. Id. at 52. This record, including the claimant's own testimony as to his capabilities, provides substantial support for the ALJ's determination that Reeves's pain is not disabling.
The ALJ found that Reeves's hearing problem is "essentially corrected" by a hearing aid. Reeves's own testimony indicates that with the aid he "can do pretty well" and the aid "doesn't make it perfect but it helps." Id. at 49. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that claimant's hearing problem is basically corrected.
The ALJ determined that claimant could perform a wide range of sedentary work. Reeves's claims of non-exertional impairments did not require the ALJ not to use the grids, because none of Reeves's non-exertional impairments were so severe as to prevent a full range of gainful employment at the designated level. Kirk v. Secretary of HHS, 667 F.2d 524, 537 (6th Cir.1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957, 103 S.Ct. 2428, 77 L.Ed.2d 1315 (1983).
In making his disability determination, the ALJ considered Reeves's mental condition although this problem was not raised in Reeves's application to the SSA or at the oral hearing. The ALJ noted:
20 C.F.R. Sec. 404.1522 (1983) requires the ALJ to consider the combination of a claimant's impairments. The reason for this is so obvious that it requires no discussion. The ALJ considered Reeves's impairments separately but not together; this failure to follow the regulations requires that the case be remanded for further consideration under the appropriate standards. As the court explained in Strickland v. Harris, 615 F.2d 1103 (5th Cir.1980),
Id. at 1110 (emphasis in original); accord Wiggins v. Schweiker, 679 F.2d 1387, 1392 (11th Cir.1982); Ferguson v. Schweiker, 641 F.2d 243, 250 & n. 9 (5th Cir.1981) (Unit A); Brenem v. Harris, 621 F.2d 688, 690 (5th Cir.1980).
At the time of the ALJ's decision Reeves was 37. The ALJ found that Reeves was a younger individual with a tenth grade education who was capable of sedentary work. Transferability of skills was not determined. Had Reeves been 50 rather than 37 and either unskilled or without transferable skills, he would have been disabled under the grids. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 2, Rules 201.09 and 201.10 (1983). Consequently this case presents the issue of the validity of the grids.
In Broz v. Schweiker, 677 F.2d 1351 (11th Cir.1982), vacated and remanded sub nom. Heckler v. Broz, ___ U.S. ___, 103 S.Ct. 2421, 77 L.Ed.2d 1311, adhered to, 711 F.2d 957, modified, 721 F.2d 1297 (11th Cir.1983), this court held that the Secretary could not use the grids that the Secretary had adopted concerning age to establish conclusively a claimant's ability to adapt to a new work environment because the age
Under the statutory scheme, once a claimant has proved that he can no longer perform his past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Secretary to prove that claimant can perform substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. Id. at 1355. In discharging this burden the Secretary may use the age factor as applied in the grids as evidence of the claimant's ability to adapt to a new work environment, but this age factor shall not be conclusive. If the claimant then proffers substantial credible evidence that his ability to adapt is less than the level established under the grids for persons his age, the Secretary cannot rely on the age factor of the grids and must instead establish the claimant's ability to adapt to a new work environment by independent evidence. Cf. Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981) (establishing a tripartite scheme of burden of production in Title VII cases). Applied specifically to this case, this burden of production scheme allows the Secretary to rely in the first instance on the age grids, but, if Reeves introduces evidence that his ability to adapt is more limited
Because we have not previously decided how to apply Broz, the evidentiary determination we describe has not been made in this case. The record shows that the ALJ applied the age grids in a mechanical fashion. Consequently, on remand the district court should give Reeves an opportunity to make to it a proffer of evidence on this issue. If Reeves makes a proffer of substantial evidence that an ALJ could find credible and tending to show that the claimant's ability to adapt to a new work environment is less than the level established under the grids for persons his age, the district court shall remand the case to the Secretary and direct that the Secretary reconsider the age/ability to adapt issue. If the claimant does not make such a proffer, the ALJ's mechanistic use of the age grids would be harmless error and there would be no need for the Secretary to reconsider the age/ability factor.
VACATED and REMANDED to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.