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Gentile v. Finch

decided: February 3, 1970.

WILLIAM GENTILE
v.
ROBERT H. FINCH, SECRETARY OF HEALTH, EDUCATION AND WELFARE, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLANT



Hastie, Chief Judge, and Van Dusen and Adams, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hastie

Opinion OF THE COURT

HASTIE, Chief Judge.

This appeal has been taken from a judgment of the district court reversing a decision in which the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare had denied the appellant's application for disability benefits and the establishment of a period of disability under the Social Security Act. The crucial issue is whether the appellant's medically determinable impairment of health resulted in "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity" within the terms of the recently amended definition of "disability" in Social Security Act §§ 216(i) and 223(d), 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423(d) (Supp. IV, 1965-1968).

Under the amended statutory definition:

"(1) The term 'disability' means --

"(A) 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; * * *

"(2) For purposes of paragraph (1) (A) --

"(A) 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 which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. * * * 'Work which exists in the national economy' means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where [an] individual lives or in several regions of the country."

Social Security Act § 223(d), 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) (Supp. IV, 1965-1968).*fn1

The district court correctly determined that substantial evidence supported the hearing examiner's finding that the claimant suffered from the medically determinable impairment of "anthracosilicosis with a moderately severe obstructive ventilatory defect [and] mild depression. * * *"*fn2 The evidence left no doubt that this condition rendered the claimant unable to do his previous work which had included mining, steel mill employment, road construction and miscellaneous arduous outdoor activities. But the district court expressly upheld the hearing examiner's finding that the claimant could perform sedentary, light, or moderate work, and left undisturbed an additional finding that jobs of this type existed in significant numbers in the region of the claimant's residence.

The Secretary had deemed these findings adequate to preclude the claimant from satisfying the statutory test for disability. However, the district court ruled that "the issue is whether in 1964 [the claimant] had a reasonable opportunity to secure * * * employment on a substantial basis." Gentile v. Gardner, W.D.Pa. 1969, 298 F. Supp. 1401, 1406. The district court found that the only evidence on the claimant's employment opportunities showed that he would not be hired for the sedentary, light, or moderate work that he could do. The evidence was the testimony of a vocational expert that a prospective employer would not hire a job candidate with the symptoms described in a report of the claimant's family physician. The district court concluded that there was no evidence that the claimant had a reasonable opportunity to engage in substantial gainful activity, and for that reason reversed the Secretary's decision that the claimant was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act.

We find two errors in the district court's analysis. First, the vocational expert's testimony that the claimant would not be hired was based on the assumption that the claimant had the impairments specified in his family physician's report, namely, silicosis and moderately severe to severe depression. But the hearing examiner characterized the claimant's mental condition as "mild depression," and the district court found that the evidence of even mild depression seemed "inconsequential in the light of the report of the only psychiatrist who examined [the claimant]." 298 F. Supp. at 1405-1406. Second and more fundamental, by requiring proof of the claimant's opportunities to be hired for the jobs that he was capable of performing, the district court disregarded the statutory mandate that "an individual * * * shall be determined to be under a disability only if * * * he * * * cannot * * * engage in any * * * substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether * * * he would be hired if he applied for work."*fn3

This is plain language and the legislative history of the amended definition of disability supports construction of the statute in accordance with its terms. In reviewing judicial interpretation of the prior disability definition, which did not include the above emphasized ...


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