JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question in this case is whether the Secretary of Health and Human Services may deny a claim for Social Security disability benefits on the basis of a determination that the claimant does not suffer from a medically severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities.
Title II of the Social Security Act (Act), 49 Stat. 620, as amended, provides for the payment of insurance benefits to persons who have contributed to the program and who suffer from a physical or mental disability. 42 U. S. C. § 423(a)(1)(D) (1982 ed., Supp. III). Title XVI of the Act provides for the payment of disability benefits to indigent persons under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. § 1382(a). Both titles of the Act define "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 . . . ." § 423(d)(1)(A). See § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act further provides that an individual
The Secretary has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (1986). Step one determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If he is disability benefits are denied. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is not, the decisionmaker proceeds to step two, which determines whether the claimant has a medically
The ability to do basic work activities is defined as "the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs." §§ 404. 1521(b), 416.921(b). Such abilities and aptitudes include "[p]hysical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling"; "[c]apacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking"; "[u]nderstanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions"; "[u]se of judgment"; "[r]esponding appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and usual work situations"; and "[d]ealing with changes in a routine work setting." Ibid.
If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied. If the impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third step, which determines whether the impairment is equivalent to one of a number of listed impairments that the Secretary acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); 20 CFR pt. 404, subpt. P. App. 1 (1986). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment is not one that is conclusively presumed to be disabling, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step, which determines whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work he has performed in the past. If the claimant is able to perform his previous work, he is not disabled. §§ 404.1520(e),
The initial disability determination is made by a state agency acting under the authority and supervision of the Secretary. 42 U. S. C. §§ 421(a), 1383b(a); 20 CFR §§ 404.1503, 416.903 (1986). If the state agency denies the disability claim, the claimant may pursue a three-stage administrative review process. First, the determination is reconsidered de novo by the state agency. §§ 404.909(a), 416.1409(a). Second, the claimant is entitled to a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) within the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals of the Social Security Administration. 42 U. S. C. §§ 405(b)(1), 1383(c)(1) (1982 ed. and Supp. III); 20 CFR §§ 404.929, 416.1429, 422.201 et seq. (1986). Third, the claimant may seek review by the Appeals Council. 20 CFR §§ 404.967 et seq., 416.1467 et seq. (1986). Once the claimant has exhausted these administrative remedies, he may seek review in federal district court. 42 U. S. C. § 405(g). See generally Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 472 (1986).
Respondent Janet Yuckert applied for both Social Security disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits in October 1980. She alleged that she was disabled by an inner ear dysfunction, dizzy spells, headaches, an inability to focus her eyes, and flatfeet. Yuckert had been employed as a travel agent from 1963 to 1977. In 1978 and 1979, she had worked intermittently as a real estate salesperson. Yuckert was 45 years old at the time of her application. She has a high school education, two years of business college, and real estate training.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded without considering the substantiality of the evidence. Yuckert v. Heckler, 774 F.2d 1365, 1370 (1985). The court held that the Act does not authorize
Our prior decisions recognize that "Congress has `conferred on the Secretary exceptionally broad authority to prescribe standards for applying certain sections of the Act.' " Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 466 (1983) (quoting Schweiker v. Gray Panthers, 453 U.S. 34, 43 (1981)). The Act authorizes the Secretary to "adopt reasonable and proper rules and regulations to regulate and provide for the nature and extent of the proofs and evidence and the method of taking and furnishing the same" in disability cases. 42 U. S. C. § 405(a). We have held that "[w]here, as here, the statute expressly entrusts the Secretary with the responsibility for implementing a provision by regulation, our review is limited to determining whether the regulations promulgated exceeded the Secretary's statutory authority and whether they are arbitrary and capricious." Heckler v. Campbell, supra, at 466 (footnote and citations omitted). In our view, both the language of the Act and its legislative history support the Secretary's decision to require disability claimants to make a threshold showing that their "medically determinable" impairments are severe enough to satisfy the regulatory standards.
As noted above, the Social Security Amendments Act of 1954 defined "disability" as "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . ." 68 Stat. 1080, 42 U. S. C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The severity regulation requires the claimant to show that he has an "impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits" "the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs." 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(c), 404.1521(b) (1986). On its face, the regulation is not inconsistent with the statutory definition of disability. The Act "defines `disability' in terms of the effect a physical or mental impairment has on a person's ability to function in the workplace." See Heckler v. Campbell, supra, at 459-460. The regulation adopts precisely this functional approach to determining the effects of medical impairments. If the impairments are not severe enough to limit significantly the claimant's ability to perform most jobs, by definition the impairment does not prevent the claimant from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. The Secretary, moreover, has express statutory authority to place the burden of showing a medically determinable impairment on the claimant. The Act provides that "[a]n individual shall not be considered to be under a disability unless he furnishes such medical and other evidence of the existence thereof as the Secretary may require." § 423(d)(5)(A) (1982 ed. and Supp. III). See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 336 (1976).
House Rep. No. 1698, 83d Cong., 2d Sess., 23 (1954), contains virtually identical language. Shortly after the 1954 Amendments were enacted, the Secretary promulgated a regulation stating that "medical considerations alone may justify a finding that the individual is not under a disability where the only impairment is a slight neurosis, slight impairment of sight or hearing, or other similar abnormality or combination of slight abnormalities." 20 CFR § 404.1502(a) (1961). This regulation, with minor revisions, remained in effect until the sequential evaluation regulations were promulgated in 1978.
The Court of Appeals placed little weight on § 423(d)(1)(A) or its legislative history, but concluded that the severity regulation is inconsistent with § 423(d)(2)(A). We find no basis for this holding. Section 423(d)(2)(A), set forth supra, at 140, was enacted as part of the Social Security Amendments
The legislative history reinforces this understanding of the statutory language. Section 423(d)(2)(A) was intended to "reemphasize the predominant importance of medical factors in the disability determination." S. Rep. No. 744, 90th Cong., 1st Sess., 48 (1967). The 1967 Amendments left undisturbed the longstanding regulatory provision that "medical considerations alone may justify a finding that the individual is not under a disability." 20 CFR § 404.1502(a) (1966). Indeed, it is clear that Congress contemplated a sequential evaluation process:
See H. R. Rep. No. 544, 90th Cong., 1st Sess., 30 (1967).
If there was any lingering doubt as to the Secretary's authority to require disability claimants to make a threshold
Congress thus recognized once again that the Secretary may make an initial determination of medical severity, and that he need not consider the claimant's age, education, and experience unless he finds "a medically severe combination of impairments."
The Senate Report accompanying the 1984 amendments expressly endorses the severity regulation.
The House Report agrees:
Finally, the Conference Report stated:
We have recognized that other aspects of the Secretary's sequential evaluation process contribute to the uniformity and efficiency of disability determinations. Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U. S., at 461. The need for such an evaluation process is particularly acute because the Secretary decides more than 2 million claims for disability benefits each year, of which more than 200,000 are reviewed by administrative law judges. Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration 1986 Annual Report to Congress, pp. 40, 42, 46. The severity regulation increases the efficiency and reliability of the evaluation process by identifying at an early stage those claimants whose medical impairments are so slight that it is unlikely they would be found to be disabled even if their age, education, and experience were taken into account. Similarly, step three streamlines the decision process by identifying those claimants whose medical impairments are so severe that it is likely they would be found disabled regardless of their vocational background.
Respondent Yuckert has conceded that the Secretary may require claimants to make a "de minimis" showing that their impairment is severe enough to interfere with their ability to work.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is reversed. The case is remanded for the Court of Appeals to consider whether the agency's decision is supported by substantial evidence.
It is so ordered.
The Court is, I believe, entirely correct to find that the "step two" regulation is not facially inconsistent with the Social Security Act's definition of disability. Title 42 U. S. C. § 423(d)(2)(A) (1982 ed. and Supp. III) provides:
Step two on its face requires only that the claimant show that he or she suffers from "an impairment or combination of impairments . . . [that] significantly limit[s] . . . physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." 20 CFR § 404.1521(a) (1986). "Basic work activities," the regulation says, include "walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling[,] . . . seeing, hearing, and speaking, . . . [u]nderstanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions[,] . . . [u]se of judgment[,] . . . [r]esponding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations[,] . . . [d]ealing with changes in a routine work setting." § 404.1521(b)(1)-(6). I do not see how a claimant unable to show a significant limitation in any of these areas can possibly meet the statutory definition of disability. For the reasons set out by the Court in Part III of
I write separately, however, to discuss the contention of respondent and various amici (including 29 States and 5 major cities) that this facially valid regulation has been applied systematically to deny benefits to claimants who do meet the statutory definition of disability. Respondent directs our attention to the chorus of judicial criticism concerning the step two regulation, as well as to substantially unrefuted statistical evidence. Despite the heavy deference ordinarily paid to the Secretary's promulgation and application of his regulations, Schweiker v. Gray Panthers, 453 U.S. 34, 43 (1981), all 11 regional Federal Courts of Appeals have either enjoined the Secretary's use of the step two regulation
Empirical evidence cited by respondent and the amici further supports the inference that the regulation has been used in a manner inconsistent with the statutory definition of disability. Before the step two regulations were promulgated approximately 8% of all claimants were denied benefits at the "not severe" stage of the administrative process; afterwards approximately 40% of all claims were denied at this stage. See Baeder v. Heckler, 768 F.2d 547, 552 (CA3 1985). As the lower federal courts have enjoined use of step two and imposed narrowing constructions, the step two denial rate has fallen to about 25%. House Committee on Ways and Means, Background Material and Data on Programs Within the Jurisdiction of the Committee on Ways and Means, 99th Cong., 2d Sess., 114 (Comm. Print 1986). Allowance rates in Social Security disability cases have increased substantially when federal courts have demanded that the step two regulation not be used to disqualify those who are statutorily eligible. For example, in Illinois after entry of the injunction in Johnson v. Heckler, 769 F.2d 1202 (CA7 1985), cert. pending sub nom. Bowen v. Johnson, No. 85-1442, the approval rate for claims climbed from 34.3% to 52% at the initial screening level and from 14.8% to 34.1% at the reconsideration level. See Brief for Alabama et al. as Amici Curiae 22.
To be sure the Secretary faces an administrative task of staggering proportions in applying the disability benefits provisions of the Social Security Act. Perfection in processing millions of such claims annually is impossible. But respondent's evidence suggests that step two has been applied systematically in a manner inconsistent with the statute. Indeed,
In my view, step two may not be used to disqualify those who meet the statutory definition of disability. The statute does not permit the Secretary to deny benefits to a claimant who may fit within the statutory definition without determining whether the impairment prevents the claimant from engaging in either his prior work or substantial gainful employment that, in light of the claimant's age, education, and experience, is available to him in the national economy. Only those claimants with slight abnormalities that do not significantly limit any "basic work activity" can be denied benefits without undertaking this vocational analysis. See Evans v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 1012, 1014 (CA4 1984); Estran v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 340, 341 (CA5 1984). (per curiam); Brady v. Heckler, 724 F.2d 914, 920 (CA11 1984). As the Secretary has recently admonished in his new guideline:
Applied in this manner, step two, I believe, can produce results consistent with the statute in the vast majority of cases
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
The definition of "disability" for purposes of the disability-insurance benefits program is set forth in § 223(d) of the Social Security Act, codified, as amended, at 42 U. S. C. § 423(d) (1982 ed. and Supp. III). Paragraph (2)(A) of that section states: "An individual . . . shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work" (emphasis added). The "severity regulation" promulgated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services for purposes of the program, however, explains to a claimant: "If you do not have any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, we will find that you do not have a severe impairment and are, therefore, not disabled. We will not consider your age, education, and work experience." 20 CFR § 404.1520(c) (1986) (emphasis added). This regulation, on its very face, directly contradicts the statutory language requiring that a claimant's age, education, and work experience be considered in a case where the claimant cannot perform his past work. It is thus invalid. The legislative history of § 423(d) confirms that the severity regulation exceeds the Secretary's statutory authority. Because the Court reverses the Court of Appeals' judgment that correctly invalidated that regulation, I dissent.
In its opinion today, the Court analyzes the facial validity of the Secretary's severity regulation by interpreting § 423(d)
The critical error in the Court's analysis is readily apparent when one considers the language introducing paragraph (2) of § 423(d). Although the Court purports to set forth § 423(d) (2)(A) in its opinion, ante, at 140, it fails to quote the key language from the statute. The concurring opinion likewise
Section 423(d) provides in relevant part:
By employing the phrase "for purposes of paragraph (1)(A)" to introduce paragraph (2), Congress made clear that paragraph (2) serves as an annotation to paragraph (1)(A), not as an independent requirement, as the Court implies. The language and structure of § 423(d) plainly indicate that paragraph (2) is relevant at the time the determination is made under paragraph (1)(A), not afterwards. Paragraph (2), in effect, explains how to determine whether a claimant is unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity" within the meaning of paragraph (1)(A).
How the determination is to be made in most cases, including those brought by insured workers such as respondent Janet Yuckert, is set forth in paragraph (2)(A), whereas paragraph (2)(B) relates to the category of claims by surviving spouses of insured workers which is specifically excepted from paragraph (2)(A). Whether a claimant under (2)(A) has proved an "inability" to work "by reason of" a medical impairment
A straightforward reading of §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and (2)(A) indicates that the claimant must establish that he has an impairment, that it is medically determinable, that it meets the duration requirement, and that it is severe enough to be disabling within the terms of the statute so as to render him eligible for benefits. Paragraph (1)(A) does not indicate how the Secretary is to assess whether any established medical impairments meet the statutory severity standard. Paragraph (2)(A), however, provides that guidance.
Under paragraph (2)(A), if the claimant is able to do his previous work, the Secretary, of course, need not consider his age, education, and work experience. In such a case, the medically determinable impairment is automatically deemed nonsevere within the meaning of the Act. If, however, the claimant cannot perform his past work, the Secretary then must inquire into the severity of the impairment or combination of impairments. He is to determine whether, in light of the claimant's age, education, and work experience, the impairment is so severe that the claimant cannot engage in substantial gainful work.
A comparison of this process to that set forth in paragraph (2)(B) leaves no doubt whatsoever that consideration of the vocational factors is a key feature of the process in evaluating claims under paragraph (2)(A). In paragraph (2)(B), Congress authorized the Secretary to deny benefit claims by surviving spouses based on medical evidence alone. That paragraph specifies that the Secretary may promulgate listed severity levels of impairments at which an individual cannot engage in any gainful activity, and may deny benefits in such
The § 423(d)(2)(A) inquiry furthers the purpose of the disability-benefits program by ensuring an individualized assessment of alleged disability in cases of insured workers. The inquiry takes into account the fact that the same medically determinable impairment affects persons with different vocational characteristics differently. A relatively young, well-educated, and experienced individual who can no longer perform his past work due to a medical impairment may be able to transfer his skills to another job and perform substantial gainful work. That same medical impairment may have a much greater effect on a person's ability to perform substantial gainful work if the person is of advanced age and has minimal education and limited work experience. Thus, a particular medical impairment may not be disabling for the first individual while it could be for the second.
Despite the clarity of the statutory language and the purpose of individualized disability determinations, the Secretary has promulgated as step two of his step-evaluation process the severity standard set forth in 20 CFR § 404.1520(c)
Merely because both the statute and the regulation require analysis of the effect of the medical impairments on the claimant's ability to work does not mean, however, that the two are consistent in all respects. Moreover, examination of the description of the statutory scheme, as set forth in Heckler v. Campbell, reveals that the general declaration upon which the Court relies was supported with a discussion of the particulars of the statute that included both paragraphs (1)(A) and (2)(A) of § 423(d). By not including § 423(d)(2)(A) at this step of its analysis, however, the Court avoids the impossible task of explaining how the statutory scheme described in Campbell and the regulatory scheme set forth in the severity regulation can represent "precisely" the same approach when
While still focusing on the comparison between the regulation and paragraph (1)(A) read in isolation, the Court states: "If the impairments are not severe enough to limit significantly the claimant's ability to perform most jobs [apparently referring to 20 CFR § 404.1521 (1986)],
Even if a medical impairment affected different individuals' abilities to perform such functions to the same extent, regardless of age, education, and work experience, there is no guidance in the severity regulation as to what constitutes a "significant" limitation on the ability, for example, to use judgment or to adapt to changes in work conditions, or as to how the degree of limitation caused by a medical impairment on such functions is to be determined based solely on medical evidence. Nor does the regulation explain whether the claimant must be able to perform a few, most, or all of the § 404.1521 "[e]xamples" of "basic work activities" in order to be found capable of performing "most jobs." The concurring opinion appears to assume that the Secretary can deny benefits at that stage only if a claimant can perform all the basic work activities listed without any significant limitations. Ante, at 155-156. Assuming this to be true, the regulation does not recognize that less than "significant" limitations on several of the activities in combination could equate with an overall significant limitation on the ability to perform most jobs. In sum, the regulation authorizes disability determinations to be made in a manner inconsistent with the statutory mandate. Congress clearly intended to prohibit these assessments from being made in a vacuum when it specified in § 423(d)(2)(A) that a claimant's age, education, and work experience be taken into account in determining the effect of his medical impairment on his ability to work.
An examination of the legislative history of § 423(d) provides strong additional support for respondent's position. The disability definition in § 423(d) has its roots in another statutory provision that was first enacted in 1952. In that year, Congress amended the Social Security Act in part to guarantee that the insured status of workers would not be adversely affected if they were permanently and totally disabled for periods of time prior to retirement. As part of this amendment, Congress added to the Act its § 216(i), which contains the definition of "disability" and "period of disability" for purposes of that program. 66 Stat. 771, 42 U. S. C. § 416(i) (1952 ed.). In 1954, Congress replaced those definitions with slightly different ones contained in a new § 216(i). 68 Stat. 1080, 42 U. S. C. § 416(i) (1952 ed., Supp. IV). When Congress amended the Act in 1956, in part to establish a program to provide benefits for certain insured disabled individuals prior to retirement, it adopted the § 216(i) definition for purposes of the new program. It added § 223 to the Act which set forth the terms of the new program and included a definition of "disability" nearly identical to that set forth in
The statutory definition of disability again was a focus of congressional attention in 1967, when the current structure of the definition was adopted. One of the express aims of the Social Security Act Amendments of that year was to provide a more detailed definition of "disability" for purposes of the disability-insurance benefits program. The definition was set forth in a new § 223(d). 81 Stat. 868. The congressional Reports explain:
Congress intended that this provision "clarify and amplify the definition of `disability' for purposes of the social security program." S. Rep. No. 744, at 263; H. R. Rep. No. 544, at 163.
Congress felt the need to clarify the definition of disability because, in its view, the rising cost of the disability-insurance program was due in part to court decisions that had interpreted the definition too broadly. S. Rep. No. 744, at 46-47. In particular, Congress was concerned with decisions that had required agency adjudicators to focus on a narrow geographic area in determining whether a claimant could perform substantial gainful activity and to consider whether there existed specific job vacancies for which the claimant had a reasonable opportunity to be hired. Id., at 47-48. See, e. g., Tigner v. Gardner, 356 F.2d 647 (CA5 1966); Wimmer v. Celebrezze, 355 F.2d 289 (CA4 1966). Congress also noted that questions had arisen about what kind of medical evidence was necessary to "establish the existence and severity of an impairment," and about what current work performance constituted "substantial gainful activity." S. Rep. No. 744, at 48.
The new language in § 423(d)(2)(A) was aimed at answering these questions. Congress made it clear that medical factors, and not local job conditions, are the primary focus in disability cases. It tempered the new restrictiveness of the statute, however, by specifying that consideration of the vocational factors is a necessary component of the disability determination in all cases where a claimant is not working and the medical impairment is not of a level presumed to be disabling, except those expressly exempted from § 423
Congress nowhere indicated an intention to authorize the Secretary to deny claims by insured workers not performing previous work based on medical factors alone.
Congress' intention that the vocational factors be considered in claims by insured workers such as respondent is further illustrated by comparing Congress' own description of this process with its description of the simpler process it authorized in cases involving claims by disabled surviving spouses.
See also H. R. Conf. Rep. No. 1030, 90th Cong., 1st Sess., 52 (1967). Clearly, the nonmedical factors were considered by Congress to be a key ingredient in disability assessments under § 423(d)(2)(A).
Out of this legislative history surrounding the enactment and amendment of the current disability definition, the Court grasps at three straws. First, it quotes the legislative Reports that accompanied the 1954 amendment to § 216(i) of the Act. Ante, at 147. The record is clear, however, that the 1967 Amendments to § 223 of the Act represent a decision by Congress to set forth new standards governing the severity assessment of medical impairments.
Second, the Court relies upon language from the Senate Report that accompanied the 1967 Amendments. Once again, however, the context is incomplete, for the Court quotes only the remark concerning the "predominant importance of medical factors." Ante, at 148. There is no question that Congress intended to emphasize that a claimant must produce adequate medical evidence to support his showing of a severe medically determinable impairment. Such an intent, however, is not at odds with Congress' other clear aim of ensuring that an insured worker's age, education, and work experience remain relevant factors in the disability determination.
Finally, the Court quotes the 1967 Senate Report's summary of the overall disability evaluation process which, as the Court points out, contemplated a sequential evaluation. Ante, at 148-149. Expressly included in that sequential evaluation, however, is the consideration of the vocational factors in cases where an insured worker cannot do his previous work.
To avoid the force of the legislative history contemporaneous with the enactment of §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and (2)(A),
The legislative history of the 1984 Act also does not stand as an endorsement of the severity regulation. Each of the three congressional Reports contains a brief description of the general disability-determination process. In each of these descriptions, the preliminary steps of the Secretary's step-evaluation process were characterized somewhat differently. The Senate Report, see ante, at 151, explained that the new provision requiring consideration of combined impairments would not authorize a departure from the sequential evaluation process. Omitted from the heart of the Court's quotation, however, is the Report's express incorporation by reference of the 1967 interpretation. The Report
The House Report accompanying the 1984 Act reflects dissatisfaction with the step two severity regulation. According to the House Report, under that process, "a determination that a person is not disabled may be based on a judgment that the person has no impairment, or that the impairment or combination of impairments are slight enough to warrant a presumption that the person's work ability is not seriously affected." H. R. Rep. No. 98-618, p. 8 (1984). While stating that it did not wish to undermine the Secretary's entire step-evaluation process, the House Report nevertheless expressed reservations about the "slight impairment" approach as a threshold assessment at step two. It explained:
After stating that it did not wish to eliminate the sequential evaluation process, it continued:
Hence, not only did the House Report read the current step-evaluation process as setting forth a "slight impairment" standard that was less onerous than the standard discussed in the Senate Report, but it also expressed concern that even that threshold step did not provide the necessary individualized consideration of a disability claim to determine the actual impact of the impairment on the individual's ability to work. The House thus indicated a desire not to upset the Secretary's step-evaluation process, but it did not approve the step two severity regulation.
The Conference Report adopted the position set forth in the House Report. It referred to the Secretary's "plan to reevaluate the current criteria for nonsevere impairments" and to the expectation that the Secretary would apprise Congress of the results of that evaluation. H. R. Conf. Rep. No. 98-1039, p. 30 (1984). Moreover, the description of the sequential evaluation process in the Conference Report is even more lenient than the House Report. The conferees approved of the flexibility and efficiency resulting from a threshold disability determination but indicated that
The conferees stated that the current sequential evaluation process permitted that determination and they did not intend to eliminate the process. Ibid. This characterization of the process as permitting less than a full evaluation of the vocational factors indicates that the appropriate standard would include an implicit or limited analysis of vocational factors. Because the agency's regulation states expressly that vocational factors will not be considered, however, the conferees' statement can serve only as a description of what they believed a valid threshold standard would be, rather than as a description of the current severity regulation.
The ambiguity in the congressional references to step two is understandable due to the fact that Congress did not have before it the question of that regulation's validity. Examination of the totality of the legislative history of the 1984 Act reveals that Congress limited its focus to several major problems in the Social Security system. These problems included the standard of review for termination of disability benefits, for evaluating pain, for ensuring consideration of multiple impairments, and for evaluating the effect of mental impairments on ability to work.
In sum, Congress acknowledged that the Secretary was in the midst of reevaluating the severity regulation and indicated its willingness to await the Secretary's results rather than to address the matter in the midst of the overwhelming legislative task it already faced regarding the matters properly before it. The brief remarks about the step-evaluation process simply cannot be read as an endorsement of the facial validity of the severity regulation. These congressional comments in 1984 cannot outweigh the clear language of §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and (2)(A) and the legislative history of those provisions.
The Court makes much of the Secretary's broad authority to prescribe standards for applying the Social Security Act and the limited nature of our review in light of that authority. Ante, at 145. This Court has recognized, however, that "[c]ourts need not defer to an administrative construction of a statute where there are `compelling indications that it is wrong.' " Espinoza v. Farah Mfg. Co., 414 U.S. 86, 94-95 (1973), quoting Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 395 U.S. 367, 381 (1969). When a regulation is facially inconsistent with the statute, the administrative construction of the statute is necessarily wrong and there is no need to consider further the position of the agency. The Secretary's interpretation of the statute as reflected in his regulation "cannot supersede the language chosen by Congress." Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U.S. 807, 825 (1980). Unlike the situation presented recently in Lukhard v. Reed, 481 U.S. 368 (1987), Congress unambiguously specified its intent when enacting § 423(d) that the vocational factors be considered in determining disability eligibility in cases such as respondent's. The efficiency and reliability interests that the Court attributes to the Secretary,
The Secretary attempts to avoid the facial contradiction between his severity regulation and the statute by interpreting the regulation as representing only a de minimis threshold standard. The Secretary apparently has recognized finally what every Federal Court of Appeals has concluded — application of a threshold severity regulation that is greater
The Court explains that it has not considered the validity of the Secretary's application of the regulation, ante, at 150, n. 8, although it appears to adopt the "slight" impairment interpretation. See ante, at 153. In her concurring opinion, JUSTICE O'CONNOR expressly imposes on the severity regulation a narrowing interpretation that permits only a de minimis threshold standard.
I cannot, however, join that approach in this case. I agree with respondent's position that, although a de minimis standard that implicitly draws the vocational factors into the disability determination may be permitted under the statute, this Court cannot resolve that question on the record in this case. Such a standard was not applied by the agency adjudicators who reviewed respondent's claim, and there is no record evidence as to the Secretary's application of a de minimis standard subsequent to the 1978 adoption of the sequential evaluation. Indeed, JUSTICE O'CONNOR aptly demonstrates that even if the Secretary is currently attempting to readopt the pre-1978 slight impairment standard, that standard is entirely inconsistent with the interpretation in effect at the time respondent's claim was considered by the agency adjudicators. I agree with JUSTICE O'CONNOR that the evidence suggests that step two has been "applied systematically in a manner inconsistent with the statute." Ante, at 157; see also Stone v. Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099 (CA5 1985). Little weight can be given to views of an agency when the views themselves are inconsistent. See United Housing Foundation, Inc. v. Forman, 421 U.S. 837, 858, n. 25 (1975).
Whether a de minimis threshold standard is authorized under the statute is not before this Court. The regulation on its face simply does not describe a standard that incorporates into the threshold step an implicit consideration of the vocational factors. The language of step two does not represent
I agree with the approach of the Court of Appeals in this case. Contrary to this Court's implication, ante, at 147, that Court did not address the question whether the statute authorizes a threshold showing of medical severity. The Court of Appeals addressed only the facial validity of the severity standard in step two of the sequential evaluation process. It expressly declined to consider whether other threshold severity standards, such as a de minimis standard, would be authorized under the statute. See Yuckert v. Heckler, 774 F.2d 1365, 1369, n. 6 (CA9 1985). Invalidating step two does not prohibit the adoption of a threshold screening standard
Because the Secretary's regulation directly conflicts with the statutory language set forth by Congress and because it plainly is inconsistent with the legislative history, it is highly inappropriate for this Court to permit the Secretary to continue to enforce that regulation. I dissent.
"An impairment or combination of impairments is found `not severe' and a finding of `not disabled' is made at [step two] when medical evidence establishes only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities which would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work even if the individual's age, education, or work experience were specifically considered (i. e., the person's impairment(s) has no more than a minimal effect on his or her physical or mental ability(ies) to perform basic work activities)." Id., at 41a.
If the "evidence shows that the person cannot perform his or her past relevant work because of the unique features of that work," the decisionmaker will conduct a "further evaluation of the individual's ability to do other work considering age, education and work experience." Id., at 43a. We do not undertake to construe this ruling today.
We do, however, reject Yuckert's contention that invalidation of the regulation is an appropriate remedy for the Secretary's allegedly unlawful application of the regulation. See Brief for Respondent 44-47. The Court of Appeals did not invalidate the regulation on this ground. Moreover, there is no indication in the record that less drastic remedies would not have been effective.
"(1) Except for purposes of sections 402(d), 402(e), 402(f), 423, and 425 of this title, the term `disability' means (A) 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 has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months, or (B) blindness . . . . The provisions of paragraphs (2)(A), (2)(C), (3), (4), (5), and (6) of section 423(d) of this title shall be applied for purposes of determining whether an individual is under a disability within the meaning of the first sentence of this paragraph in the same manner as they are applied for purposes of paragraph (1) of such section." (Emphasis added.) 42 U. S. C. § 416(i)(1) (1982 ed., Supp. III).
Clearly, Congress intended that paragraph (2)(A) of § 423(d) be applied for purposes of determining whether a claimant is under a disability within the meaning of paragraph (1)(A) of § 423(d).
"(a) Non-severe impairment(s). An impairment or combination of impairments is not severe if it does not significantly limit your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.
"(b) Basic work activities. When we talk about basic work activities, we mean the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs. Examples of these include —
"(1) Physical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling;
"(2) Capacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking;
"(3) Understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions;
"(4) Use of judgment;
"(5) Responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations; and
"(6) Dealing with changes in a routine work setting." (Emphasis added.)
"The term `disability' means 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. An individual shall not be considered to be under a disability unless he furnishes such proof of the existence thereof as may be required." 70 Stat. 815-816, 42 U. S. C. § 423(c)(2) (1952 ed., Supp. IV).
While a clearly drafted regulation encompassing a valid preliminary screening standard undoubtedly could increase efficiency and reliability, the current step two advances neither.