Wallace v. Bowen

869 F.2d 187 (3rd Cir. 1989)


Wallace (P), while working as a steelworker, suffered a heart attack. One month later he suffered a stroke which may have caused a loss of vision in the right eye, eventually diagnosed as 'homonymous hemianopsia' with additional complications of 'ring scotoma' and possible retinitis pigmentosa. P underwent an operation to transfer a vein to improve blood flow in his leg. P applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on the ground of his heart condition and visual impairments. P's claims were denied. P was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge. P testified and introduced reports from his examining physicians detailing his cardiological and visual impairments. Following the hearing, P submitted three additional physician's reports, including one from Dr. A. Barnett who concluded that the combination of Wallace's several eye diseases caused an impairment equal to that in the Listing of Impairments for homonymous hemianopsia. After the hearing, the ALJ sent P's medical records to two 'consultative physicians,' who were both under contract with the HHS to render their medical opinions when requested. Each physician concluded that P's impairments did not meet the relevant listing. The ALJ then sent copies of the reports from the consultative physicians together with what appears to be a standardized form letter to P's counsel, advising him that these reports had been received and notifying him of the following procedures relating to the new evidence. P's counsel objected to the inclusion of the reports into the record including that use of reports obtained 'after the hearing' without 'the opportunity to confront these physicians and challenge their conclusions' raised a due process question. The ALJ then rendered his decision, finding P not disabled under the terms of the Social Security Act. Although the ALJ did find that P's impairments precluded him from returning to his former work as a steelworker, he found that P was able to perform 'sedentary work activity,' and was not therefore disabled. The ALJ assigned 'greater weight' to the opinion of the consultative physician, than to the opinion of Dr. Barron, who had submitted a report on behalf of P. The Appeals Council denied P's request for review of the ALJ's determination, specifically concluding that the use of the consultative physician reports obtained post-hearing did not constitute a violation of due process. This appeal resulted.