EFFECTIVE/PUBLICATION DATE: 03/10/88
20 CFR 404.1520(c), 404.1521, 416.920(c), and 416.921
Bowen v. Yuckert, ____ U.S. ____, 107 S.Ct. 2287 (1987)
POWELL, Supreme Court Justice:
The question in this case is whether the Secretary of Health and Human Services may deny a claim for Social Security disability benefits on the basis of a determination that the claimant does not suffer from a medically severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities.
Title II of the Social Security Act (Act), 49 Stat. 620, as amended, provides for the payment of insurance benefits to persons who have contributed to the program and who suffer from a physical or mental disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(D) (1982 ed., Supp. III). Title XVI of the Act provides for the payment of disability benefits to indigent persons under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. § 1382(a). Both titles of the Act define "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months . . . ." § 423(d)(1)(A). See § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act further provides that an individual
The Secretary has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (1986). Step one determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If he is, disability benefits are denied. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is not, the decisionmaker proceeds to step two, that determines whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. That determination is governed by the "severity regulation" at issue in this case. The severity regulation provides:
The ability to do basic work activities is defined as "the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs." §§ 404.1521(b), 416.921(b). Such abilities and aptitudes include "[p]hysical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling"; [c]apacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking"; "[u]nderstanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions"; "[u]se of judgment"; "[r]esponding appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and usual work situations"; and "[d]ealing with changes in a routine work setting." Ibid.
If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied. If the impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third step, that determines whether the impairment is equivalent to one of a number of listed impairments that the Secretary acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); 20 CFR pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1 (1986). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment is not one that is conclusively presumed to be disabling, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step, that determines whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work he has performed in the past. If the claimant is able to perform his previous work, he is not disabled. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant cannot perform this work, the fifth and final step of the process determines whether he is able to perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience. The claimant is entitled to disability benefits only if he is not able to perform other work. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).
The initial disability determination is made by state agency acting under the authority and supervision of the Secretary. 42 U. S. C. §§ 421(a), 1383b(a), 20 CFR §§ 404.1503, 416.903 (1986). If the state agency denies the disability claim, the claimant may pursue a three-stage administrative review process. First, the determination is reconsidered de novo by the state agency. §§ 404.909(a), 416.1409(a). Second, the claimant is entitled to a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) within the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals of the Social Security Administration. 42 U. S. C. §§ 405(b)(1), 1383(c)(1) (1982 ed. and Supp. III); 20 CFR §§ 404.929, 416.1429, 422.201 et seq (1986). Third, the claimant may see review by the Appeals Council. 20 CFR §§ 404.967 et seq., 416.1467 et seq (1986). Once the claimant has exhausted these administrative remedies, he may seek review in federal district court. 42 U. S. C. § 405(g). See generally Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. _____, _____ (1986).
Respondent Janet Yuckert applied for both Social Security disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits in October 1980. She alleged that she was disabled by an inner ear dysfunction, dizzy spells, headaches, an inability to focus her eyes, and flat feet. Yuckert had been employed as a travel agent from 1963 to 1977. In 1978 and 1979, she had worked intermittently as a real estate salesperson. Yuckert was 45 years old at the time of her application. She has a high school education, two years of business college, and real estate training.
The Washington Department of Social and Health Services determined that Yuckert was not disabled. The agency reconsidered Yuckert's application at her request, and again determined that she was not disabled. At the next stage of the administrative review process, the ALJ found that, although Yuckert suffered from "episodes of dizziness, or vision problems," App. to Pet. for Cert. 28a, "[m]ultiple tests . . . failed to divulge objective clinical findings of abnormalities that support the claimant's severity of the stated impairments." Id., at 27a. The ALJ also found that Yuckert was pursuing a "relatively difficult" 2-year course in computer programming at a community college and was able to drive her car 80 to 90 miles each week. Id., at 27a-28a. In light of the medical evidence and the evidence of her activities, the ALJ concluded that her medically determinable impairments were not severe under 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c) (1986). The Appeals Council denied Yuckert's request for review on the ground that the results of additional psychological tests supported the ALJ's finding that she had not suffered a significant impairment of any work-related abilities. App. to Pet. for Cert. 22a. Yuckert then sought review in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. The case was referred to a Magistrate, who concluded that the Secretary's determination was supported by substantial evidence. The District Court adopted the Magistrate's report and affirmed the denial of Yuckert's claim. Id., at 14a.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded without considering the substantiality of the evidence. Yuckert v. Heckler, 774 F.2d 1365, 1370 (1985). The court held that the Social Security Act does not authorize the Secretary to deny benefits on the basis of a determination that the claimant is not severely impaired. The court focused on the statutory provision that a person is disabled "only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work. . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A) (1982 ed. and Supp. III). In the court's view, this provision requires that "both medical and vocational factors [i.e., age, education, and work experience] be considered in determining disability." Yuckert v. Heckler, supra, at 1370. The court rejected the Secretary's contention that the 1984 amendments to the Social Security Act endorsed step two of the disability evaluation process. The court concluded that "[t]he legislative history does not suggest that Congress intended to permit findings of non-disability based on medical factors alone." Ibid. (citation omitted). Finally, the court relied upon Circuit Court holdings that the burden of proof shifts to the Secretary once the claimant shows an inability to perform his previous work. In the court's view, step two of the Secretary's evaluation process is inconsistent with this assignment of burdens of proof, because it allows the Secretary to deny benefits to a claimant who is unable to perform past work without requiring the Secretary to show that the claimant can perform other work. Accordingly, the court invalidated the severity regulation. 20 CFR § 404.1520(c) (1986). Because of the importance of the issue, and because the court's decision conflicts with the holdings of other Court of Appeals, we granted certiorari. 476 U.S. _____ (1986). We now reverse.
Our prior decisions recognize that "Congress has 'conferred on the Secretary exceptionally broad authority to prescribe standards for applying certain sections of the [Social Security] Act.'" Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 466 (1983) (quoting Schweiker v. Gray Panthers, 453 U.S. 34, 43 (1981)). The Act authorizes the Secretary to "adopt reasonable and proper rules and regulations to regulate and provide for the nature and extent of the proofs and evidence and the method of taking and furnishing the same" in disability cases. 42 U.S.C. § 405(a). We have held that "[w]here, as here, the statute expressly entrusts the Secretary with the responsibility for implementing a provision by regulation, our review is limited to determining whether the regulations promulgated exceeded the Secretary's statutory authority and whether they are arbitrary and capricious." Heckler v.; Campbell, supra, at 466 (footnote and citations omitted). In our view, both the language of the Act and its legislative history support the Secretary's decision to require disability claimants to make a threshold showing that their "medically determinable" impairments are severe enough to satisfy the regulatory standards.
As noted above, the Social Security Amendments Act of 1954 defined "disability" and "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . ." 68 Stat. 1080, 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The severity regulation requires the claimant to show that he has an "impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits" "the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs." 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(c), 404.1521(b) (1986). On its face, the regulation is not inconsistent with the statutory definition of disability. The Act "defines 'disability' in terms of the effect a physical or mental impairment has on a person's ability to function in the workplace." See Heckler v. Campbell, supra, at 459-460. The regulation adopts precisely this functional approach to determining the effects of medical impairments. If the impairments are not severe enough to limit significantly the claimant's ability to perform most jobs, by definition the impairment does not prevent the claimant from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. The Secretary, moreover, has express statutory authority to place the burden of showing a medically determinable impairment on the claimant. The Act provides that "[a]n individual shall not be considered to be under a disability unless he furnishes such medical and other evidence of the existence thereof as the Secretary may require." § 423(d)(5)(A) (1982 ed. and Supp. III). See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 336 (1976).
The requirement of a threshold showing of severity also is consistent with the legislative history of § 423(d)(1)(A). The Senate Report accompanying the 1954 amendments states:
House Rep. No. 1698, 83d Cong., 2d Sess., 23 (1954) contains virtually identical language. Shortly after the 1954 amendments were enacted, the Secretary promulgated a regulation stating that "medical considerations alone may justify a finding that the individual is not under a disability where the only impairment is a slight neurosis, slight impairment of sight or hearing, or other similar abnormality or combination of slight abnormalities." 20 CFR § 404.1502(a) (1961). This regulation, with minor revisions, remained in effect until the sequential evaluation regulations were promulgated in 1978.
The Court of Appeals placed little weight on § 423(d)(1)(A) or its legislative history, but concluded that the severity regulation is inconsistent with § 423(d)(2)(A), set forth supra, at 1-2, was enacted as part of the Social Security Amendments Act of 1967, 81 Stat. 868. It states that "an individual . . . shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work . . . ." Ibid. The words of this provision limit the Secretary's authority to grant disability benefits, not to deny them. Section 423(d)(2)(A) restricts eligibility for disability benefits to claimants whose medically severe impairments prevent them from doing their previous work and also prevent them from doing any other substantial gainful work in the national economy. If a claimant is unable to show that he has a medically severe impairment, he is not eligible for disability benefits. In such a case, there is no reason for the Secretary to consider the claimant's age, education, and work experience.
The legislative history reinforces this understanding of the statutory language. Section 423(d)(2)(A) was intended to "reemphasize the predominant importance of medical factors in the disability determination." S.Rep. No. 744, 90th Cong., 1st Sess., 48 (1967). The 1967 amendments left undisturbed the longstanding regulatory provision that "medical considerations alone may justify a finding that the individual is not under a disability." 20 CFR § 404.1502(a) (1966). Indeed, it is clear that Congress contemplated a sequential evaluation process:
If there was any lingering doubt as to the Secretary's authority to require disability claimants to make a threshold showing of medical severity, we think it was removed by § 4 of the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984, 98 Stat. 1800. It is true that `"[t]he Reform Act is remedial legislation, enacted principally to be of assistance to large numbers of persons whose disability benefits have been terminated.'" Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. _____, _____, n.14 (quoting City of New York v. Heckler, 755 F.2d 31, 33 (CA2 1985)). But Congress nevertheless expressed its approval of the severity regulation both in the statute and in the accompanying Reports. Section 4(b) of the 1984 Act provides:
Congress thus recognized once again that the Secretary may make an initial determination of medical severity, and that he need not consider the claimant's age, education, and experience unless he finds "a medically severe combination of impairments."
The Senate Report accompanying the 1984 amendments expressly endorses the severity regulation.
We have recognized that other aspects of the Secretary's sequential evaluation process contribute to the uniformity and efficiency of disability determinations. Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 461 (1983). The need for such an evaluation process is particularly acute because the Secretary decides more than 2 million claims for disability benefits each year, of which more than 200,000 are reviewed by administrative law judges. Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration 1986 Annual Report to Congress, pp. 40, 42, 46. The severity regulation increases the efficiency and reliability of the evaluation process by identifying at an early stage those claimants whose medical impairments are so slight that it is unlikely they would be found to be disabled even if their age, education, and experience were taken into account. Similarly, step three streamlines the decision process by identifying those claimants whose medical impairments are so severe that it is likely they would be found disabled regardless of their vocational background.
Respondent Yuckert has conceded that the Secretary may require claimants to make a "de minimis" showing that their impairment is severe enough to interfere with their ability to work. Brief for Respondent 22-23; Tr. of Oral Arg. 30. Yuckert apparently means that the Secretary may require a showing that the "impairment is so slight that it could not interfere with [the claimant's] ability to work, irrespective of age, education, and work experience." Brief for Respondent 22. She contends that the Secretary imposed only a "de minimis" requirement prior to 1978, but has required a greater showing of severity since then. As we have noted, however, Congress expressly approved the facial validity of the 1978 severity regulation in the 1984 amendments to the Act. Particularly in light of those amendments and the legislative history, we conclude that the regulation is valid on its face.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is reversed. The case is remanded for the Court of Appeals to consider whether the agency's decision is supported by substantial evidence.
It is so ordered.
Justice Powell delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices White, Stevens, O'Connor, and Scalia joined. Justice O'Connor filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Stevens joined. Justice Blackmun filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Brennan and Marshall joined.
 Yuckert's physician diagnosed her condition as bilateral labyrinthine dysfunction. App. to Pet. for Cert. 26a. Another physician found only "non-specific congestion of the nasal and middle ear mucous membranes." Ibid. X-rays, an electrocardiogram, and a spinal puncture revealed no abnormalities. Id., at 27a.
 E.g., Valencia v. Heckler, 751 F.2d 1082, 1086-1087 (CA9 1985); Francis v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 1562, 1564 (CA11 1985).
 Although Yuckert had applied for SSI benefits as well as disability insurance benefits, the complaint she filed in District Court referred only to the disability insurance program of Title II. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals did not invalidate 20 CFR § 416.930(c), the severity regulation applicable to the SSI program.
 Some Courts of Appeals have upheld the facial validity of the severity regulation. McDonald v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 795 F.2d 1118, 1121-1126 (CA1 1986); Hampton v. Bowen, 785 F.2d 1308, 1311 (CA5 1986); Farris v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 773 F.2d 85, 89-90 (CA6 1985); Flynn v. Heckler, 768 F.2d 1273, 1274-1275 (CA11 1985) (per curiam). Others have joined the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in holding the severity regulation invalid on its face. Wilson v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 796 F.2d 36, 40-42 (CA3 1986); Johnson v. Heckler, 769 F.2d 1202, 1209-1213 (CA7 1985); Brown v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 870 871-872 (CA8 1986); Hansen v. Heckler, 783 F.2d 170, 174-176 (CA10 1986).
 The severity regulation does not change the settled allocation of burdens of proof in disability proceedings. It is true, as Yuckert notes, that the Secretary bears the burden of proof at step five, that determines whether the claimant is able to perform work available in the national economy. But the Secretary is required to bear this burden only if the sequential evaluation process proceeds to the fifth step. The claimant first must bear the burden at step one of showing that he is not working, at step two that he has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments, and at step four that the impairment prevents him from performing his past work. If the process ends at step two, the burden of proof never shifts to the Secretary. Similarly, if the impairment is one that is conclusively presumed to be disabling, the claimant is not required to bear the burden of showing that he is unable to perform his prior work. See Bluvband v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 886, 891 (CA2 1984). This allocation of burdens of proof is well with the Secretary's "exceptionally broad authority" under the statute. Schweiker v. Gray Panthers, 453 U.S. 34, 43 (1981). It is not unreasonable to require the claimant, who is in a better position to provide information about his own medical condition, to do so.
 According to the dissent our opinion implies that the Secretary has unlimited authority to deny meritorious claims. Post, at 2, n.1. It hardly needs saying that our opinion carries no such implication.
 JUSTICE BLACKMUN's dissent argues that a "straightforward reading" of the statute requires the Secretary expressly to consider the age, education, and work experience of any claimant who is unable to perform his past work, and who is able to show a medically determinable impairment, however trivial. Post, at 5. The dissent's reading would make the severity of the claimant's medical impairment turn on nonmedical factors such as education and experience. For example, the dissent asserts that the Court's "reasoning begs the very question presented for resolution today -- whether the severity of a claimant's medical impairment can be discerned without reference to the individual's age, education, and work experience." Post, at 11, n.7 (emphasis added). Moreover, the dissent ignores the fact that, below a threshold level of medical severity, an individual is not prevented from engaging in gainful activity "by reason of" the physical or mental impairment. 68 Stat. 1080, 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Curiously, the dissent bases its position largely on § 423(d)(2)(A), a provision added to "reemphasize the predominant importance of medical factors." S.Rep. No. 744 90th Cong., 1st Sess., 48 (1967). The dissent's reading of § 423(d)(2)(C) also is novel. That provision applies to the Secretary's determination "whether an individual's physical or mental impairment or impairments are of a sufficient medical severity that such impairment or impairments could be the basis of eligibility . . . ." As the dissenters read this provision, it does not support the severity regulation because it "says nothing of the severity level necessary to meet eligibility requirements." Post, at 16 (emphasis added). Of course, any threshold, however low, is still a threshold. Finally, the fact that the disability claims of widows and widowers are decided solely on the basis of medical factors, see 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(B); post, at 5-6, does not imply that Congress intended the Secretary expressly to consider nonmedical factors in other cases, no matter how trivial the medical impairment. In sum, the dissent's reading of the statute is less than "straightforward."
 JUSTICE BLACKMUN's dissent recognizes, as it must, that the Secretary's "severity regulation" requires a claimant to show a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. Absent such a showing, it is unnecessary to consider the claimant's "age, education, and work experience." The dissent concludes, however, that the regulation "contradicts the statutory language" and therefore is invalid. Post, at 1. It is explicitly clear from the legislative history of the 1984 amendments that Congress perceived no such inconsistency. Indeed, both the Senate and House Reports endorse the severity regulation. The Senate Report, for example, states that a "claim must be disallowed" unless the Secretary determines "first, on a strictly medical basis and without regard to vocational factors, whether the individual's impairments, considered in combination, are medically severe. If they are not, the claim must be disallowed." S.Rep. No. 98-466, p. 22 (1984). The House Report is not inconsistent, and the Conference Report is in full accord. See pp. 11-13, infra. The dissent nevertheless views much of the legislative history as "ambiguous", post, at 17; see id., at 19. Even if we agreed that there was some ambiguity, we would defer to the Secretary's interpretation of the statute. See Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 466 (1983); supra, at 6-7.
 The House Report observed that the Secretary had "been criticized for basing terminations of benefits solely and erroneously on the judgment that the person's medical evaluation is 'slight', according to very strict criteria, and is therefore not disabling, without making any further evaluation of the person's ability to work." H.R. Rep. No. 98-618, p. 7 (1984). The Report "notes that the Secretary has already planned to re-evaluate the current criteria for non-severe impairments, and urges that all due consideration be given to revising those criteria to reflect the real impact of impairments upon the ability to work," Id., at 8. These comments about the Secretary's application of the severity regulation hardly suggest that the regulation is invalid on its face.
 Senator Long, a ranking Member of the Conference Committee, observed that "[s]ome courts . . . have ruled that the Secretary cannot deny claims solely on the basis that the individual has no severe medical condition but must always make an evaluation of vocational capacities." 130 Cong. Rec. S11458 (Sept. 19, 1984). Senator Long went on to state that the Senate bill, that was followed by the conference bill with only "minor language changes of a technical nature," ibid., was "carefully drawn to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary to limit benefits to only those individuals with conditions which can be shown to be severe from a strictly medical standpoint -- that is, without vocational evaluation," ibid. Senator Long was one of the sponsors of the disability program when it was enacted in 1956, see S. Rep. No. 2133, 84th Cong., 2d Sess., 140 (1956), and also was Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee when the 1967 Amendments to the Act were enacted, see S. Rep. No. 744, 90th Cong., 1st Sess., 1 (1967).
 Although the issue was not briefed or argued by the parties, the dissent nevertheless concludes that the severity regulation should be invalidated because it is excessively vague. Post, at 10-11. The severity regulation plainly adopts a standard for determining the threshold level of severity: the impairment must be one that "significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." 20 CFR § 404.1520(c). Moreover, as discussed supra, at 2-3, the Secretary's regulations define "basic work activities" in detail.
 As the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit invalidated the regulation on its face, we have no occasion to consider whether it is valid as applied. A number of Courts of Appeals have held that the Secretary has exceeded his authority by denying large numbers of meritorious disability claims at step two. See cases cited in n.4, supra. We have noted that the House Report accompanying the 1984 amendments urged the Secretary to reevaluate the severity criteria to determine whether they were too strict. See n. 9, supra. Subsequent to the adjudication of Yuckert's disability claim, the Secretary issued a ruling "[t]o clarify the policy for determining when a person's impairment(s) may be found `not severe' . . . ." Social Security Ruling 85-28, App. to Pet. for Cert. 37a. The ruling states:
"An impairment or combination of impairments is found `not severe' and a finding of `not disabled' is made at [step two] when medical evidence establishes only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities which would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work even if the individual's age, education, or work experience were specifically considered (i.e., the person's impairment(s) has no more than a minimal effect on his or her physical or mental ability(ies) to perform basic work activities)." Id., at 41a.
If the "evidence shows that the person cannot perform his or her past relevant work because of the unique features of that work," the decisionmaker will conduct a "further evaluation of the individual's ability to do other work considering age, education and work experience." Id., at 43a. We do not undertake to construe this ruling today.
We do, however, reject Yuckert's contention that invalidation of the regulation is an appropriate remedy for the Secretary's allegedly unlawful application of the regulation. See Brief for Respondent 44-47. The Court of Appeals did not invalidate the regulation on this ground. Moreover, there is no indication in the record that less drastic remedies would not have been effective.
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