Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) (D.C. Civil No. 82-2421).
Before: GIBBONS, Chief Judge, SEITZ and ALDISERT, Circuit Judges
We must presently decide whether the district court properly denied attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(A), in a social security case. The court concluded that the position of the Secretary of Health and Human Services was substantially justified when he originally opposed a grant of disability benefits. We hold that the court erred. Accordingly, we will reverse the judgment of the district court and remand these proceedings for calculation of attorney's fees under EAJA.
George Edge filed a social security disability claim on the basis of a stroke he sustained on June 2, 1980, while working as a pipe loader for Armco Steel Corporation. He testified that he felt as if he had been struck on the left side of the head; he experienced pain, dizziness, light-headedness, and had to be hospitalized. Edge was fifty-eight years old when he suffered the stroke; he has not worked since.
Two Armco physicians examined Edge and concluded that he was totally disabled as a result of ischemic attacks and that he was unable to return to work. In addition, Dr. Wachs, a neurologist at Allegheny General Hospital, examined Edge twice during the month following the incident and confirmed the diagnosis as a "transient ischemic attack affecting the brainstem, secondary to atherosclerosis." App. at 42a. Finally, a report by Edge's treating physician, Dr. Brabson, concluded that Edge could perform mental household chores, but doubted that he would be able to engage in gainful employment in the future.
At a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, Edge testified that since the incident he experienced attacks of dizziness several times a week. He stated that he must lie down for several hours when these attacks occur, that he has trouble with his balance, that he can drive only for short distances, and that he is quite depressed. The testimony concerning his emotional state was corroborated by his wife and daughter-in-law.
The government countered this evidence of disability by noting that Dr. Wachs indicated that Edge "does not have any motor impairment and obviously he has not had a major stroke." App. at 42a. The government also relies on isolated statements of Dr. Brabson, who reported that there were no residuals, no neurological abnormalities, and no weakness of the extremities.
On the basis of the foregoing testimony, the ALJ denied disability benefits and the appeals council agreed. The district court affirmed the Secretary's decision and Edge lodged an appeal in this court. In Edge v. Schweiker 735 F.2d 1348 (3d Cir. 1984) (unpublished opinion), we vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings, stating:
We are unable to discern any evidence in the record that Edge is able to return to his former employment, particularly in light of the ALJ's recognition that:
Physicians having a responsibility to claimant's former employer and a treating physician have indicated that claimant is totally and permanently disabled from engaging in his former employment in a mill environment near machinery, a wholly understandable recommendation where a history of unpredictable attacks of vertigo is given by the employee.
We have repeatedly stressed that the medical evaluation of treating physicians is entitled to significant weight, particularly if it is uncontradicted by other expert medical testimony: "an ALJ is not free to set his own expertise against that of physicians who present competent medical evidence." . . . Neither the ALJ nor the appeals council was free to disregard the testimony of the treating physician, the neurologist who diagnosed the ischemic attacks, and the company doctors, concerning work restrictions in the absence of substantial evidence to the contrary. . . . By assuming the ability to return to prior employment despite ...