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Hammond v. Sullivan

filed*fn*: May 13, 1992.

MARTHA A. HAMMOND, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LOUIS W. SULLIVAN, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



On Appeal From the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. D.C. No. CV-90-0862-B(M). Rudi M. Brewster, District Judge, Presiding.

Before: Tang, Schroeder and Beezer, Circuit Judges

MEMORANDUM

Martha A. Hammond appeals from the final judgment of the district court affirming the decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to deny her supplemental security income benefits and disability insurance benefits. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

Hammond contends that the Secretary did not adequately consider whether the combined effect of her physical impairments equals a listed impairment presumed severe enough to preclude gainful work. We agree. Consequently, we reverse and remand to the Secretary for further findings.

I

Hammond applied for supplemental security income benefits on August 2, 1988, and for disability insurance benefits on August 29, 1988. Hammond alleged that she became disabled on March 1, 1988. The Social Security Administration denied her claims. A hearing was conducted before an administrative law Judge ("ALJ"), and on October 30, 1989, the ALJ found that Hammond was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Hammond's request for review of the ALJ's decision on April 18, 1990.

Hammond then brought suit in the district court pursuant to sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), which provide for judicial review of final decisions of the Secretary. On December 24, 1990, the district court granted the Secretary's motion for summary judgment, finding that the Secretary's decision was supported by substantial evidence. That final judgment is the subject of the present appeal.

II

We review de novo the district court order of summary judgment. Paulson v. Bowen, 836 F.2d 1249, 1250 (9th Cir. 1988). We set aside a denial of benefits only if the Secretary's findings are based upon legal error or are unsupported by substantial evidence. Stone v. Heckler, 761 F.2d 530, 531 (9th Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a Conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quotation omitted).

III

The Secretary must make a five-part sequential inquiry to determine if a claimant is "disabled" under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(a)(1)(D), and is thus eligible for benefits. Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908 F.2d 502, 504 (9th Cir. 1990).

The Secretary first determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) & (b). The Secretary next determines whether the claimant's impairment is "severe." Id. § 404.1520(c). If severe, the Secretary compares the medical evidence of the claimant's impairment to a list of impairments presumed severe enough to preclude gainful work. Id. § 404.1520(d). If the claimant meets or equals one of the listed impairments, a conclusive presumption of disability applies. Winans v. Bowen, 853 F.2d 643, 647 (9th Cir. 1987). If the claimant's impairment does not meet or equal one of the listed impairments, the Secretary must determine whether the claimant can do relevant past work or other work. If the claimant cannot do either, benefits are awarded. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e) & (f).

IV

In determining whether a claimant's impairment is equal to a listed impairment, the Secretary must compare the "symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings" of the claimant's impairment "with the medical criteria shown with the listed impairment." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1526. If the claimant has more than one impairment, the Secretary must consider the combined effect of the claimant's impairments without regard to whether any such impairment, if evaluated separately, would be disabling. Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172, 176 (9th Cir. ...


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