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Simmonds v. Heckler

argued: November 18, 1986.

LAURETA SIMMONDS, APPELLANT
v.
MARGARET HECKLER, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civ. No. 83-4630.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

Before: SEITZ, GIBBONS and HUNTER, Circuit Judges

SEITZ, Circuit Judge.

Appellant Laureta Simmonds appeals from the April 5, 1986 order of the district court denying her motion for summary judgment and granting summary judgment in favor of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1291 (1982).

I.

Simmonds is a high school graduate and has been a licensed practical nurse since 1974. Simmonds has no other vocational training. Except for time off to care for her sick father and to attend school, she has been regularly employed since 1966. Simmonds has worked as a part-time waitress, as an assistant manager in a restaurant, and as a licensed practical nurse. Most recently, Simmonds worked at Abington Hospital as a licensed practical nurse from 1975 until March 2, 1981, the date of her injury.

While on duty at Abington Hospital, Simmonds injured her back by lifting a very heavy bag of laundry and placing it in a laundry chute. She immediately stopped working and received Worker's Compensation through October 1981. Dr. Chollak, an orthopedic surgeon, diagnosed Simmonds as suffering from L-5 radioculopathy (disease of the nerve roots) and two herniated discs. On December 7, 1981, Simmonds was hospitalized for corrective surgery. Dr. Chollak removed one disc and performed a spinal fusion. Upon her discharge, Simmonds was confirmed to bedrest for three months.

Simmonds applied for disability benefits on January 20, 1982. At that time, she was forty-five years old. The Secretary denied her application both initially and on reconsideration. Simmonds then requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

Simmonds testified on her own behalf before the ALJ. She stated that she could not lift more than ten pounds; that she was unable to walk the span of two houses without pain; that she rarely socialized or had visitors; that she could not sit for longer than ten or fifteen minutes at a time; and that she was mentally depressed, frustrated and suicidal.

The evidence before the ALJ detailed Simmonds' medical and emotional history since the accident. Reports indicate that Simmonds received immediate treatment for the injury. Although her condition slowly improved, Dr. Twardy reported that Simmonds continued to have decreased range of motion and tenderness. On March 30, 1981, Dr. Twardy reported that although Simmonds was experiencing less sharp back pain, she did complain of a lower back ache. Her strength was normal and her reflexes and leg raises showed some improvement. On May 4, 1981, Dr. Twardy reported that Simmonds was experiencing a burning sensation in her legs. Simmonds told Dr. Twardy that she was comfortable only when lying in the fetal position.

In his October 28, 1981 letter, Dr. Chollak reported that Simmonds was unable to work. When Simmonds was discharged from the hospital on January 9, 1982, Dr. Chollak indicated that Simmonds had been unable to do any type of work, sedentary or otherwise, since her accident because of her severe pain and symptomatology. In June 1982, Dr. Chollak wrote that Simmonds continued to have some improvement. In August 1982, the doctor noted that Simmonds continued to experience pain and that she could sit or stand for only a few hours at a time. On January 3, 1983, Dr. Chollak expressed his opinion that Simmonds was, at that time, totally disabled. He indicated that Simmonds suffered severe pain with any increased ambulation, that the pain prevented her from doing her back exercises, and that she could sit or stand for only a few hours at a time.

In his February 4, 1982 report, Dr. Matteucci, an internist, recited that Simmonds was taking Tylenol for her pain. On October 5, 1982, Dr. Matteucci indicated that when he first saw Simmonds in August 1981, she was in great pain and could not sit comfortably. However, this report indicates that, as of October 1982, Dr. Matteucci noted continued improvement of Simmonds condition. Dr. Matteucci reported on December 22, 1982 that Simmonds had had continuing leg and back pain since the accident and that he believed she had been totally disabled since the injury. He also indicated that the surgery succeeded in partially alleviating the pain, but that Simmonds was still experiencing some discomfort sitting, lying and walking. He stated his opinion that Simmonds was unable to return to her occupation as a licensed practical nurse. Finally, Dr. Matteucci reported that the economic and physical consequences of the accident had produced a degree of emotional instability and an aggravation of Simmonds' colitis.

In his report of January 3, 1983, Dr. Medway reported the results of electrodiagnostic studies. Dr. Medway indicated that Simmonds' condition had improved significantly since November 3, 1981, and that ...


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