UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
March 24, 1981
Patricia Roberts HARRIS, Secretary of Health and Human Services
The opinion of the court was delivered by: GILES
This action is before the court on appeal from a final adverse decision rendered December 7, 1979 by the Secretary of Health Education and Welfare. Denied were plaintiff's claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under Title II and XVI of the Social Security Act, as amended, ("the Act") 42 U.S.C. § 416(i), 423, and 1381a. Claimant filed application for disability insurance benefits on November 9, 1977, and supplemental benefits on January 8, 1978. He alleged that his disability commenced June 1, 1976 due to a back and neck injury stemming from an automobile accident. These claims were initially denied on the basis that plaintiff retained the functional ability to do light work. Tr. 64-65, 71. He again filed application for benefits on May 22, 1978 alleging that as of February 14, 1978 he had become disabled due to osteoarthritis of the cervical and lumbar spine. These claims were also denied on the grounds that plaintiff could do sedentary work. Tr. 79-80.
A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who rendered a decision on September 28, 1979. The ALJ found that based upon medical data plaintiff was not suffering from any physical impairment which could be considered so severe as to be disabling. Tr. 16-18. The Appeals Council ("Council") affirmed the ALJ finding that plaintiff's impairments were mild and not of 12 months duration. It noted that the medical reports evidenced some functional overlay in addition to the musculoskeletal complaints. The Council concluded, however, that there was no evidence of any psychiatric impairment which would impose significant limitations. Tr. 5. The Appeals Council's decision of December 7, 1979 became the Secretary's final decision. For the reasons that follow, we remand.
A claimant satisfies his initial burden of proving entitlement to disability benefits by having his treating physician substantiate his subjective claims. Livingston v. Califano, 614 F.2d 342, 345 (3d Cir. 1980); Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979).
The ALJ is not bound to accept the conclusion of claimant's physician without weighing it against other relevant evidence. Urgolites v. Finch, 316 F. Supp. 1168 (W.D.Pa.1970). An ALJ must resolve contradictory medical evidence and give reasons for accepting or rejecting such evidence. Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, at 704-707 (3d Cir. 1981). If no contradictory evidence exists, the ALJ is bound by the expert opinions of claimant's treating physician regarding the existence of the disability. Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d at 57-58; Eiden v. Secretary of H.E.W., 616 F.2d 63, 64 (2d Cir. 1980); McLaughlin v. Secretary of H.E.W., 612 F.2d 701, 705 (2d Cir. 1980).
The Secretary then must come forward with evidence showing that given claimant's age, education, and work experience, claimant can perform specific jobs in the national economy.
If no finding exists regarding alternative employment, a denial of disability benefits can be upheld only if there is medical evidence of record that claimant's impairment did not prevent him from engaging in his former employment. Rossi, supra, at 57. The Third Circuit has mandated that leniency be shown in establishing claimant's disability, and that the Secretary's responsibility to rebut it be strictly construed. Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 407 (3d Cir. 1980). Accord, Smith v. Harris, 644 F.2d 985, at 989 (3d Cir. 1981). The court has stated that although the burden is upon claimant to prove his disability, "due regard for the beneficent purposes of the legislation requires that a more tolerant standard be used in this administrative proceeding than is applicable in a typical suit in a court of record where the adversary system prevails. Id. (citations omitted).
Plaintiff's physicians substantiated his subjective complaints; therefore, plaintiff met his burden of proving that he could not do his previous work as laborer or meat hanger at an Oscar Meyer meat processing plant. Livingston, supra; Rossi, supra. And see Tr. 128-29, 131-33, 138, 142. Several examining physicians encouraged him to try some work activity; however, all agreed that he could not or should not resume heavy lifting and bending. They reasoned that any job assignment undertaken should be tailored to his symptomatology.
Tr. 126, 128-129, 137, 140. It is not disputed, however, that every job plaintiff ever held at Oscar Meyer involved lifting weights of 40 pounds or more, bending and a cold, damp working environment. Further, following Dr. Steinberg's advice, plaintiff returned to work, tried to work, but could not tolerate the pain in his neck and back. He had to quit after only two days. Tr. 126, 129.
There is no evidence that there was any light work at Oscar Meyer that plaintiff could have done. All examining physicians agree that he could not as of the date of their examinations perform the heavy work which would have been required. The physicians also discovered that claimant suffered from a significant mental depression which was possibly interfering with his recovery to maximum physical strength. Tr. 15, 132, 134, 137, 140.
Under any measure, plaintiff has shown that he had a physical impairment which was so severe as to keep him from returning to his normal job duties.
The ALJ erred in holding that claimant's complaints were so mild as not to be disabling. Accordingly, we remand for the ALJ to determine whether the Secretary has met its burden of showing that there exist specific jobs in the national economy which claimant can perform. Unless the Secretary meets that burden, claimant shall be entitled to disability benefits. Rossi, supra, at 57.
There are at least two further reasons for remand. First, the ALJ failed to give the reasons supporting his finding that claimant's pain was mild and not disabling. The Third Circuit has held that pain may be disabling and that subjective complaints of pain must be given serious consideration even when such complaints are not supported by objective evidence. Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, at 972 (3d Cir. 1981); see also Cancel v. Harris, 512 F. Supp. 69 at 74-75 (E.D.Pa. 1981). The ALJ's rejection of claimant's complaints of pain without giving reasons makes it impossible for the court to ascertain whether the ALJ gave the complaints serious consideration and carefully evaluated all the relevant evidence regarding pain. An ALJ's findings:
"should be as comprehensive and analytical as feasible and, where appropriate, should include a statement of subordinate factual foundations on which ultimate factual conclusions are based, so that a reviewing court may know the basis for the decision. This is necessary so that the court may properly exercise its responsibility under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to determine if the Secretary's decision is supported by substantial evidence."
Baerga v. Richardson, 500 F.2d 309, 312 (3d Cir. 1974), cited with approval in Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, at 704 (3d Cir. 1981).
Secondly, several doctors stated that claimant suffered from a significant functional overlay (mental depression) which affected his return to work. See reports of Dr. Kleinhoffer, Tr. 140, and Dr. Mawel, Tr. 15, 137. The record shows that claimant agreed to psychological evaluation and therapy; and that at least one of his doctors prescribed anti-depressant drugs and Tylenol to alleviate his depression. Tr. 134, 137. The ALJ totally failed to consider whether claimant's significant functional overlay may have constituted the kind of "mental impairment" required for disability under 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1).
See Tr. 140.
Accordingly, this case, for the reasons stated above, is remanded to the Secretary for prompt proceedings consistent with this opinion.