HEANEY, Circuit Judge.
Rosa Lee Brown appeals from a district court decision affirming the Secretary of Health and Human Services's denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse and remand.
Brown is a sixty-two-year-old woman with two years of college training. Her past relevant work was primarily clerical in nature. On May 21, 1982, she applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 1381a, respectively, complaining of heart and back problems, blackout spells, neck pains, muscle spasms, general body pain, and dizziness. She attributes many of her physical problems to automobile accidents in 1978, 1979, and 1980. Brown's daily activities consist primarily of watching television while sitting or lying down. She does not cook, do housework, shop, or engage in social activities. Her pain is aggravated by sitting for more than five minutes, and her abilities to stand and walk are severely limited. She takes Motrin, Valium, and Dalmane daily.
On appeal, Brown argues that step two of the sequential evaluation process, as applied by the Secretary, contravenes the Social Security Act (Act). She also states that a remand would be necessary even if step two were valid, since the Secretary's determination of no disability was not supported by substantial evidence. For the reasons discussed below, we reverse and remand.
Brown questions the validity of the second step of the sequential evaluation process. This regulation requires a finding of "not disabled" if the claimant does not have severe impairments, regardless of the claimant's age, education, or work experience. Brown argues that this regulation contravenes the Social Security Act, which requires a consideration of these vocational factors when determining disability. The Secretary argues that the regulation is consistent with the Act.
The Circuits are divided on this question. Three Circuits
Regardless of whether we invalidate the second step or accept it as a de minimis requirement, a remand would be necessary; the record clearly shows that Brown's impairments, at the very least, would meet a de minimis requirement. Even though we could avoid this question, its importance and recurring nature convince us that its prompt settlement is appropriate.
We believe that those Circuits which have invalidated the provision have the stronger argument. Although the second step might be consistent with the Act if the Secretary applied it "as a preliminary screening device to deny a claimant with impairments so minimal that they could under no circumstances have a serious impact on the ability to work," Hansen, 783 F.2d 170, 174, the Secretary has not done so. See Baeder, 768 F.2d at 552 ("a full forty percent of disability applicants are denied benefits without any evaluation of their age, education or past relevant work experience"); Hansen, 783 F.2d 170, 175-76. The facts in this case illustrate the manner in which the Secretary actually applies the severity standard. The Secretary found that Brown did not have a severe impairment for the purposes of the second step, despite her finding that Brown suffers from early degenerative arthritis, early chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and psychophysiological impairments. Therefore, the only practical way to ensure that the Secretary follows the requirements of the Act is to invalidate the second step.
In view of the fact that this case must be remanded for a consideration of Brown's ability to work in light of her vocational characteristics as well as her impairments, we make the following additional observations. The Secretary has a duty to develop a full and fair record, regardless of whether or not the claimant is represented by counsel. See e.g., Brissette v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 548, 549 (8th Cir.1984). In this case, a complete record would fully discuss Brown's work history, the relationship between her automobile accidents and her
In summary, we hold that the second step of the sequential evaluation process is invalid and remand to the Secretary to reconsider her disability determination in accord with this opinion and in light of Brown's age, education, work experience, and physical and mental impairments.
BOWMAN, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I agree that the Secretary has not developed a full and fair record in this case, and therefore, for the particular reasons set forth by the Court, ante at 872, I join in the decision remanding the case to the Secretary for reconsideration. I see no reason, however, to hold the second step of the sequential evaluation process invalid. All the second step really says is that if the claimant's impairments do not significantly limit his or her ability to do basic work activities, then the claimant is not disabled. I do not read this as being merely a de minimis requirement, nor do I believe it is in conflict with the Social Security Act. Rather, I see it as being entirely consistent with the purpose of the Act, which is to compensate persons who cannot work, while denying the benefits of the Act to claimants who can. The statutory factors of age, education, and past work experience are appropriately taken into account, it seems to me, in the fifth step of the sequential evaluation process, which comes into play once the Secretary has determined that because of physical or mental problems the claimant cannot do any of the work he or she has done in the past. Indeed, if we invalidate the second step, then logically we also should invalidate the third step, see ante at 2-3 n. 2 (subsection (c)), which like the second excludes consideration of the statutory factors of age, education, and work experience.
The problem in this case, as I see it, is not the sequential analysis, but the Secretary's failure to develop an adequate record and to consider all the evidence that should be considered if a proper step two determination of whether the claimant has a severe impairment is to be made. Accordingly, I concur in the decision to remand this case, but I respectfully dissent from the Court's holding that the second step of the sequential evaluation process is invalid under the Social Security Act.
Hansen, 783 F.2d 170, 176 (citations omitted).
We additionally note that interpreting the second step as a de minimis requirement arguably renders it worthless, as it would be hard to conceive of an impairment which is so slight that it would not affect a claimant's ability to work under any circumstances.