EFFECTIVE DATE: 1/23/86
Whether the Social Security disability vocational rules applicable to individuals who are illiterate or unable to communicate in English are applicable to individuals who are illiterate and unable to communicate in English.
Regulations 20 C.F.R. 404.1564; (416.964) Appendix 2, Rule 201.23 Section 200.00(a); 201.00(i)
Martinez v. Heckler, 735 F.2d 795 (5th Cir. 1984)
Eliseo Martinez, Jr. was 37 years old on the date his disability was determined to have ceased, February 20, 1981. He has a seventh grade education with no vocational training and can speak English "a little bit." Mr. Martinez' work experience was primarily as a backhoe operator and construction laborer. His last job was as a laborer at a concrete company from September 1979 through November 1979. He was awarded disability benefits as of October 1, 1979 based on residuals of injuries received in an automobile accident -- fractures of both tibias and fibulas and a fracture of his right humerus together with osteomyelitis of the left tibia. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined that disability had ceased, relying primarily on the report of an orthopedic surgeon. Based on this report the ALJ concluded that Mr. Martinez had regained the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of sedentary work and, applying the grid regulation, found him to be not disabled. The district court affirmed the ALJ's decision and Mr. Martinez appealed.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard the appeal, reversed the District Court and remanded the case to the Secretary for a further hearing to determine whether or not Mr. Martinez is unable to communicate in English as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1564 (416.964). The court held that denial of continuing benefits was not supported by substantial evidence because the Secretary misapplied the grid regulations. Of the rules considered by the ALJ, Appendix 2, Rule 201.23, .24 and .25, the court concluded that the only one which could potentially apply is Rule 201.23. (Rules 201.24 and 201.25 apply to individuals who are both literate and able to communicate in English and Rule 201.25 applies to individuals with some work skills.) Rule 201.23 provides that an individual limited to sedentary work who is 18 to 44 years old, illiterate or unable to communicate in English with a history of unskilled or no work is not disabled. The record indicates that Mr. Martinez is both illiterate and unable to speak English well, but contains no finding concerning whether or not he has sufficient ability to be able to communicate in that language as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1564 (416.964). The court concluded that if Mr. Martinez is both illiterate and unable to communicate in English, he does not fall within the criteria set forth in Rule 201.23.
Section 201.00(i) of Appendix 2 to Social Security Regulations No. 4 indicates that while illiteracy or the inability to communicate in English may specifically limit an individual's vocational scope, the primary work functions in the bulk of unskilled work relate to working with things (rather than data or people) and in these work functions at the unskilled level, illiteracy or the ability to communicate in English has the least significance. The functional capability for a full range of sedentary work represents sufficient numbers of jobs to indicate substantial vocational scope of these individuals age 18 to 44 even if they are illiterate or unable to communicate in English. In formulating the grid rules, it was assumed that a person who is unable to communicate in English would naturally be illiterate in English. Illiteracy is subsumed under inability to communicate in English. It has thus been longstanding SSA policy that the rules applying to individuals who are illiterate or unable to communicate in English also apply to those who are illiterate and unable to communicate in English.
The Martinez decision specifically holds that Rule 201.23 does not apply to the facts before the court and directs that a finding be made with respect to ability to communicate in English. The implication of the decision is that the grid regulations do not apply to individuals limited to sedentary work, age 18 to 44 who are illiterate and unable to communicate in English with a history of unskilled or no work.
This ruling applies only to cases in which the individual resides in Texas, Mississippi or Louisiana at the time of the determination or decision at any level of administrative review, i.e., initial, reconsideration, administrative law judge hearing or Appeals Council review. For such individuals seeking disability benefits or continuation of disability benefits under Title II or Title XVI, when illiteracy and inability to communicate in English are alleged or appear to be in question, findings with respect to both issues must be made. Where individuals limited to sedentary work age 18 to 44 with unskilled or no work history are found to be both illiterate and unable to communicate in English, the lowest category of the grid regulations which might be applied to such individuals, namely Rule 201.23, cannot be applied under the holding of the Martinez decision. The grid regulations may be used only as guidance for decisionmaking. (See Appx. 2,200.00(a))
In addition, under the court's decision, Rule 202.16 can also no longer be applied. Rule 202.16 applies to individuals limited to light work who are younger with unskilled or no work history and illiterate or unable to communicate in English. Following the court's rationale, Rule 202.16 cannot be applied to individuals who are both illiterate and unable to communicate in English. Again, the grid regulations may be used only as guidance for decisionmaking.
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