, Barnhart v. Thomas :: 540 U.S. 20 (2003) :: US LAW US Supreme Court Center

Barnhart v. Thomas :: 540 U.S. 20 (2003) :: US LAW US Supreme Court Center

    USLaw.Site Opinion Summary and Annotations

    Annotation

    Primary Holding
    Under forty two USC §423(d)(2)(A) , the Social Security Administration may additionally locate that a claimant isn't disabled if she remains physically and mentally capable of do her preceding work. The SSA does no longer have to analyze whether her preceding paintings as an elevator operator nonetheless exists in good sized numbers in the countrywide financial system. This reasonable interpretation of the regulation is entitled to deference under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
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    SYLLABUS
    OCTOBER TERM, 2003
    BARNHART V. THOMAS
     
     
    SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

    BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY v. THOMAS

    certiorari to the us court of appeals for the 0.33 circuit

    No. 02–763. Argued October 14, 2003—Decided November 12, 2003

    A individual is disabled, and thereby eligible for Social Security incapacity insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), “only if his bodily or intellectual impairment or impairments are of such severity that he isn't always most effective unable to do his preceding paintings however can't, thinking about his age, education, and paintings revel in, have interaction in some other form of substantial gainful paintings which exists inside the national economic system.” 42 U. S. C. §§423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B) (emphasis added) (hereinafter §423(d)(2)(A)). After her job as an elevator operator became removed, respondent Thomas carried out for disability insurance benefits and SSI. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined that her impairments did not prevent her from appearing her beyond applicable paintings as an elevator operator, rejecting her argument that she is not able to do this work as it no longer exists in enormous numbers within the national economy. The District Court affirmed the ALJ, concluding that whether or not Thomas’s antique task exists is irrelevant underneath the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) rules. In reversing and remanding, the en banc Third Circuit held that §423(d)(2)(A) unambiguously presents that the ability to perform previous work disqualifies from blessings handiest if it's miles massive gainful paintings which exists inside the country wide financial system.

    Held: The SSA’s willpower that it can discover a claimant not disabled in which she stays bodily and mentally able to do her preceding paintings, without investigating whether or not that paintings exists in significant numbers within the country wide financial system, is an affordable interpretation of §423(d)(2)(A) this is entitled to deference under Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837. Section 423(d)(2)(A) establishes two necessities: An impairment have to render an man or woman “not able to do his previous work” and ought to additionally ward off him from “engag[ing] in some other kind of sizable gainful paintings.” The clause “which exists within the country wide economic system” actually qualifies the latter requirement. The trouble in this situation is whether or not that clause additionally qualifies the previous requirement. The SSA’s guidelines, which create a 5-step sequential assessment manner to decide incapacity, solution that query in the terrible. At step 4, the SSA will locate now not disabled a claimant who can do his previous work, without inquiring whether that work exists in the national economic system. Rather, it reserves inquiry into the countrywide economic system for the 5th step, while it considers vocational factors and determines whether or not the claimant can perform different jobs in the national economy. See 20 CFR §§404.1520(f), 404.1560(c), 416.920(f), 416.960(c). That interpretation is an inexpensive production of §423(d)(2)(A). The Third Circuit’s contrary studying ignores the grammatical “rule of the ultimate antecedent,” underneath which a proscribing clause or phrase should be study to alter handiest the noun or phrase that it without delay follows. Construing §423(d)(2)(A) in accord with this rule is pretty realistic. Congress ought to have determined that an analysis of a claimant’s capacity to do his preceding work would in most cases be an effective and green administrative proxy for the claimant’s ability to do a few work that exists in the national financial system. There is ideal purpose to apply any such proxy to avoid the greater expansive and individualized step-5 evaluation. The right Chevron inquiry isn't always whether or not an business enterprise creation can supply upward push to unwanted consequences in some instances (which both the SSA’s and the Third Circuit’s structures can), but whether or not, in light of the alternatives, the organisation construction is affordable. Here, the SSA’s authoritative interpretation satisfies that take a look at. Pp. three–10.

    294 F. 3d 568, reversed.

       Scalia, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.


    OPINION OF THE COURT
    BARNHART V. THOMAS
    540 U. S. ____ (2003)
     
    SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
    NO. 02-763

    JO ANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, PETITIONER v. PAULINE THOMAS

    on writ of certiorari to the usa court docket of appeals for the 1/3 circuit

    [November 12, 2003]

       Justice Scalia brought the opinion of the Court.

       Under the Social Security Act, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is authorized to pay disability coverage benefits and Supplemental Security Income to men and women who have a “disability.” A individual qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such benefits, “handiest if his bodily or intellectual impairment or impairments are of such severity that he isn't always handiest not able to do his preceding work but cannot, thinking about his age, education, and work experience, engage in another kind of sizeable gainful work which exists within the national economy.” forty two U. S. C. §§423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(three)(B). The problem we should decide is whether the SSA may additionally decide that a claimant is not disabled due to the fact she remains bodily and mentally capable of do her preceding work, without investigating whether that previous work exists in substantial numbers in the national financial system.

    I

       Pauline Thomas labored as an elevator operator for 6 years till her job turned into eliminated in August 1995. In June 1996, at age 53, Thomas carried out for incapacity coverage benefits below Title II and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. See 49 Stat. 622, as amended, 42 U. S. C. §401 et seq. (Title II); as introduced, 86 Stat. 1465, and as amended, §1381 et seq. (Title XVI). She claimed that she suffered from, and was disabled by using, coronary heart disease and cervical and lumbar radiculopathy.

       After the SSA denied Thomas’s utility to start with and on reconsideration, she requested a listening to before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ observed that Thomas had “high blood pressure, cardiac arrythmia, [and] cervical and lumbar strain/sprain.” Decision of ALJ 5, Record 15. He concluded, but, that Thomas became now not underneath a “disability” because her “impairments do not prevent [her] from performing her past relevant work as an elevator operator.” Id., at 6, Record sixteen. He rejected Thomas’s argument that she is not able to do her preceding work because that paintings now not exists in good sized numbers in the countrywide economic system. The SSA’s Appeals Council denied Thomas’s request for evaluation.

       Thomas then challenged the ALJ’s ruling inside the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, renewing her argument that she is not able to do her preceding work due to its scarcity. The District Court affirmed the ALJ, concluding that whether Thomas’s vintage process exists is beside the point underneath the SSA’s policies. Thomas v. Apfel, Civ. No. ninety nine–2234 (Aug. 17, 2000). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed and remanded. Over the dissent of three of its members, it held that the statute unambiguously affords that the ability to carry out earlier paintings disqualifies from benefits best if it is “good sized gainful paintings which exists within the countrywide financial system.” 294 F. 3d 568, 572 (2002). That keeping conflicts with the selections of 4 different Courts of Appeals. See Quang Van Han v. Bowen, 882 F. second 1453, 1457 (CA9 1989); Garcia v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 46 F. 3d 552, 558 (CA6 1995); Pass v. Chater, sixty five F. 3d 1200, 1206–1207 (CA4 1995); Rater v. Chater, seventy three F. 3d 796, 799 (CA8 1996). We granted the SSA’s petition for certiorari. 537 U. S. 1187 (2003).

    II

       As applicable to the existing case, Title II of the Act defines “disability” as the “lack of ability to interact in any extensive gainful interest with the aid of reason of any medically determinable physical or intellectual impairment which can be expected to bring about demise or which has lasted or can be expected to ultimate for a non-stop length of not less than 12 months.” 42 U. S. C. §423(d)(1)(A). That definition is qualified, however, as follows:

       “An individual will be determined to be below a incapacity best if his physical or intellectual impairment or impairments are of such severity that he isn't always most effective not able to do his preceding paintings however can not, thinking about his age, training, and work revel in, engage in any other kind of considerable gainful paintings which exists inside the national economic system… .” §423(d)(2)(A) (emphasis added).

    “[W]very wellwhich exists in the country wide economic system” is described to mean “paintings which exists in substantial numbers both in the region in which such person lives or in numerous areas of the united states of america.” Ibid. Title XVI of the Act, which governs Supplemental Security Income blessings for disabled indigent humans, employs the same definition of “disability” utilized in Title II, including a qualification that is verbatim similar to §423(d)(2)(A). See forty two U. S. C. §1382c(a)(three)(B). For simplicity’s sake, we can refer most effective to the Title II provisions, however our evaluation applies equally to Title XVI.

       Section 423(d)(2)(A) establishes necessities for disability. First, an man or woman’s bodily or intellectual impairment must render him “not able to do his previous paintings.” Second, the impairment need to additionally preclude him from “engag[ing] in any other sort of significant gainful paintings.” The events agree that the latter requirement is certified by the clause that right away follows it—“which exists within the countrywide economy.” The difficulty in this case is whether or not that clause additionally qualifies “previous paintings.”

       The SSA has responded this question within the terrible. Acting pursuant to its statutory rulemaking authority, forty two U. S. C. §§405(a) (Title II), 1383(d)(1) (Title XVI), the enterprise has promulgated policies establishing a 5-step sequential assessment manner to decide disability. See 20 CFR §404.1520 (2003) (governing claims for incapacity coverage benefits); §416.920 (parallel regulation governing claims for Supplemental Security Income). If at any step a locating of incapacity or non-incapacity may be made, the SSA will not overview the declare similarly. At step one, the organization will locate non-incapacity except the claimant suggests that he isn't always working at a “huge gainful hobby.” §§404.1520(b), 416.920(b). At step , the SSA will locate non-disability until the claimant shows that he has a “extreme impairment,” defined as “any impairment or aggregate of impairments which notably limits [the claimant’s] bodily or mental capability to do fundamental work sports.” §§404.1520(c), 416.920(c). At step 3, the company determines whether the impairment which enabled the claimant to live on step two is on the list of impairments presumed excessive sufficient to render one disabled; if so, the claimant qualifies. §§404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If the claimant’s impairment isn't always on the list, the inquiry proceeds to step 4, at which the SSA assesses whether the claimant can do his preceding work; except he indicates that he can't, he is determined no longer to be disabled.[Footnote 1] If the claimant survives the fourth level, the fifth, and final, step requires the SSA to do not forget so-called “vocational elements” (the claimant’s age, schooling, and past work revel in), and to determine whether the claimant is able to performing different jobs existing in huge numbers in the country wide economy. §§404.1520(f), 404.1560(c), 416.920(f), 416.960(c).[Footnote 2]

       As the above description suggests, step 4 can result in a dedication of no disability without inquiry into whether or not the claimant’s preceding paintings exists inside the countrywide financial system; the rules explicitly reserve inquiry into the national economy for step 5. Thus, the SSA has made it perfectly clear that it does not interpret the clause “which exists inside the country wide economic system” in §423(d)(2)(A) as applying to “previous paintings.”[Footnote 3] The difficulty presented is whether this enterprise interpretation must be accorded deference.

       As we held in Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837, 843 (1984), whilst a statute speaks genuinely to the issue handy we “must deliver effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress,” however while the statute “is silent or ambiguous” we have to defer to an inexpensive creation with the aid of the company charged with its implementation. The Third Circuit held that, by means of referring first to “preceding paintings” after which to “any other sort of full-size gainful paintings which exists within the national economic system,” forty two U. S. C. §423(d)(2)(A) (emphasis brought), the statute unambiguously indicates that the previous is a species of the latter. “When,” it stated, “a sentence sets out one or extra unique gadgets observed via ‘any other’ and an outline, the particular objects need to fall in the description.” 294 F. 3d, at 572. We disagree. For the reasons mentioned below the translation followed by way of SSA is at least a reasonable construction of the text and ought to therefore take delivery of effect.

       The Third Circuit’s reading disregards—certainly, is precisely contrary to—the grammatical “rule of the last antecedent,” in keeping with which a proscribing clause or word (here, the relative clause “which exists in the countrywide economic system”) ought to frequently be study as modifying best the noun or phrase that it right away follows (here, “every other sort of good sized gainful work”). See 2A N. Singer, Sutherland on Statutory Construction §forty seven.33, p. 369 (sixth rev. ed. 2000) (“Referential and qualifying words and phrases, wherein no opposite purpose seems, refer entirely to the ultimate antecedent”). While this rule is not an absolute and might usually be conquer through different indicia of which means, we've said that construing a statute in accord with the rule of thumb is “quite realistic as a rely of grammar.” Nobelman v. American Savings Bank, 508 U. S. 324, 330 (1993). In FTC v. Mandel Brothers, Inc., 359 U. S. 385 (1959), this Court employed the guideline to interpret a statute strikingly comparable in structure to §423(d)(2)(A)—a provision of the Fur Products Labeling Act, 15 U. S. C. §69, which defined “ ‘invoice’ ” as “ ‘a written account, memorandum, listing, or catalog … transported or delivered to a patron, consignee, factor, bailee, correspondent, or agent, or some other individual who is engaged in dealing commercially in fur products or furs.’ ” 359 U. S., at 386 (quoting 15 U. S. C. §69(f)) (emphasis brought). Like the Third Circuit right here, the Court of Appeals in Mandel Brothers had interpreted the word “ ‘another’ ” as rendering the relative clause (“ ‘who's engaged in dealing commercially’ ”) relevant to all of the specifically listed categories. 359 U. S., at 389. This Court unanimously reversed, concluding that the “limiting clause is to be carried out only to the remaining antecedent.” Id., at 389, and n. four (citing 2 J. Sutherland, Statutory Construction §4921 (3d ed. 1943)).

       An example will illustrate the mistake of the Third Circuit’s notion that the specially enumerated “preceding paintings” “should” be handled the same as the more trendy reference to “another sort of giant gainful work.” 294 F. 3d, at 572. Consider, as an example, the case of mother and father who, earlier than leaving their teenage son alone within the house for the weekend, warn him, “You can be punished if you throw a celebration or engage in some other interest that damages the residence.” If the son nevertheless throws a party and is caught, he have to rarely be able to avoid punishment via arguing that the residence changed into not damaged. The mother and father proscribed (1) a party, and (2) any other activity that damages the house. As far as appears from what they said, their reasons for prohibiting the home-alone celebration can also have had nothing to do with harm to the residence—for example, the chance that underage ingesting or sexual hobby could arise. And although their simplest situation changed into to save you damage, it does not follow from the truth that the equal interest underlay both the specific and the overall prohibition that proof of impairment of that interest is required for both. The mother and father, foreseeing that evaluation of whether an hobby had in truth “damaged” the residence will be disputed by means of their son, may have wanted to avoid all argument by way of specifying and categorically prohibiting the only activity—website hosting a celebration—that changed into most probably to reason damage and maximum likely to occur.

       The Third Circuit suggested that deciphering the statute as does the SSA might cause “absurd results.” Ibid. See additionally Kolman v. Sullivan, 925 F. 2d 212, 213 (CA7 1991) (the reality that a claimant should carry out a beyond process that no longer exists could now not be “a rational ground for denying blessings”). The court docket should conceive of “no workable purpose why Congress might have desired to deny advantages to an in any other case qualified character absolutely due to the fact that person, although not able to perform any task that truely exists within the countrywide financial system, should carry out a preceding process that no longer exists.” 294 F. 3d, at 572–573. But on the very subsequent page the Third Circuit conceived of just this sort of doable cause, namely, that “within the huge majority of cases, a claimant who's discovered to have the ability to carry out her beyond paintings additionally can have the ability to perform other forms of paintings.” Id., at 574, n. five. The end which follows is that Congress ought to have determined that an evaluation of a claimant’s physical and intellectual capacity to do his preceding work could “in the full-size majority of instances” function an effective and green administrative proxy for the claimant’s potential to do a few work that does exist inside the country wide economy. Such a proxy is useful because the step-five inquiry into whether the claimant’s cumulative impairments preclude him from finding “different” paintings could be very tough, requiring consideration of “every of th[e] [vocational] factors and … an individual assessment of each claimant’s competencies and barriers,” Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U. S. 458, 460–461, n. 1 (1983) (citing 20 CFR §§404.1545–404.1565 (1982)). There is right cause to apply a doable proxy that avoids the greater expansive and individualized step-5 analysis. As we have discovered, “[t]he Social Security hearing machine is ‘probably the largest adjudicative enterprise within the western world.’ … The want for efficiency is self-evident.” 461 U. S., at 461, n. 2 (quotation omitted).

       The Third Circuit rejected this proxy motive due to the fact it'd produce outcomes that “won't always be real, and … might not be authentic in this situation.” 294 F. 3d, at 576. That logic could invalidate a large variety of the processes employed via the administrative nation. To generalize is to be imprecise. Virtually each legal (or different) rule has imperfect packages specifically situations. Cf. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U. S. 137, 157 (1987) (O’Connor, J., concurring) (“To make sure the Secretary faces an administrative project of fantastic proportions in applying the disability advantages provisions of the Social Security Act. Perfection in processing tens of millions of such claims yearly is not possible”). It is genuine that, below the SSA’s interpretation, a worker with severely restrained ability who has managed to find easy work in a declining enterprise can be penalized for his problems if the task later disappears. It is likewise genuine, however, that below the Third Circuit’s interpretation, impaired people in declining or marginal industries who can't do “different” work may want to clearly refuse to return to their jobs—despite the fact that the jobs remain open and available—and though draw incapacity advantages. The right Chevron inquiry isn't whether the business enterprise construction can provide upward thrust to undesirable outcomes in a few times (as here each structures can), however as a substitute whether or not, in mild of the alternatives, the employer production is cheap. In the present case, the SSA’s authoritative interpretation definitely satisfies that test.

       We have taken into consideration respondent’s other arguments and locate them to be with out merit.

    * * *

       We want now not determine these days whether §423(d)(2)(A) compels the interpretation given it by way of the SSA. It suffices to conclude, as we do, that §423(d)(2)(A) does no longer unambiguously require a exclusive interpretation, and that the SSA’s regulation is an entirely reasonable interpretation of the textual content. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

    It is so ordered.

    Footnote 1

    The step-four commands to the claimant study as follows: “If we can not make a decision primarily based in your modern-day paintings interest or on clinical data alone, and you've got a excessive impairment(s), we then evaluation your residual purposeful potential and the bodily and intellectual needs of the paintings you've got completed inside the beyond. If you can still do that kind of paintings, we are able to find which you aren't disabled.” 20 CFR §§404.1520(e), 416.920(e) (2003).

    Footnote 2

     In policies that became effective on September 25, 2003, the SSA amended certain components of the 5-step method in methods now not material to this opinion. The provisions called subsections (e) and (f) on this opinion are now subsections (f) and (g).

    Footnote 3

     This interpretation was embodied in the policies that first mounted the five-step procedure in 1978, see forty three Fed. Reg. 55349 (codified, as amended, at 20 CFR §§404.1520 and 416.920 (1982)). Even earlier than enactment of §423(d)(2)(A) in 1967, the SSA disallowed incapacity advantages whilst the incapability to paintings was as a result of “technological modifications inside the industry wherein [the claimant] has worked.” 20 CFR §404.1502(b) (1961).

    Oral Argument - October 14, 2003
    Opinion Announcement - November 12, 2003
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