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Smith v. Califano

decided: January 13, 1981.

LEO R. SMITH, APPELLANT
v.
JOSEPH A. CALIFANO, JR., SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, EDUCATION AND WELFARE



APPEAL FROM A JUDGMENT OF THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil No. 76-971)

Before Adams, Hunter and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges.

Author: Higginbotham

Opinion OF THE COURT

This is an action under Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final decision of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (Secretary) denying George R. Smith's claim for disability insurance benefits.

This case is not untypical of many Social Security cases which come before us for review. The Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) opinion is replete with the proper conclusionary terms which "justify" denial of the claim. The ALJ has decided every major issue of credibility against the claimant. Yet, when carefully reviewing the actual facts of record on which the ALJ presumably based his findings, it seems that the evidence in support of his adverse ruling is so slight that, upon consideration of the entire record, one must wonder whether his findings, particularly his credibility findings, were based on a mere speculative hunch or were reasoned findings. The able Magistrate who reviewed this record apparently had most of the same qualms we have. She noted that:

The review of this case is extremely difficult. Plaintiff's testimony of constant pain is compelling. However, it is subject to the credibility evaluation of the Administrative Law Judge.

Because the ALJ had "found plaintiff's testimony on severe daily pain not to be credible" the Magistrate recommended that the Secretary's motion for summary judgment be granted. We do not find a sufficient basis of record for the ALJ to make his adverse findings on credibility, and therefore this case must be resolved in favor of the plaintiff.

Because the Secretary's decision was not supported by substantial evidence, we reverse.

I.

On November 1, 1973, Smith filed for disability insurance benefits, stating that he was not able to engage in gainful employment during the period beginning in January of 1971 to the present because of a chronic ulcer condition. His application was denied on January 11, 1974 as was his Request for Reconsideration. On October 10, 1974, Smith requested a hearing before an ALJ and a hearing was held on January 22, 1976. The ALJ denied Smith disability benefits and the Appeals Council affirmed.

An appeal was taken from the Council's affirmance to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The District Judge by Memorandum and Order dated July 1, 1977 remanded this case to the Secretary because of deficiencies in the findings of the first ALJ who denied claimant benefits. The record did not then contain evidence that Smith's former jobs, which the ALJ found he could perform, did not involve repetitive bending.

A hearing and supplemental hearing were held on remand and a different ALJ again denied Smith benefits. The Appeals Council affirmed the decision of the ALJ and Smith filed a Motion to Reopen. Upon the motion's denial, Smith appealed to the District Court. The case was assigned to a U. S. Magistrate for a report and recommendation.

The Magistrate filed her Report and Recommendation on November 30, 1979 in which, with seeming reluctance, she recommended that the Government's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted and that the decision of the Secretary, denying Smith's application for disability benefits under 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423, be affirmed. The District Judge by Order of December 20, 1979, adopted ...


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