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Pulaski v. Finch

decided: August 7, 1969.


McLaughlin, Kalodner and Van Dusen, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kalodner


KALODNER, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from an Order of the District Court granting summary judgment for the defendant Secretary in an action to review*fn1 denial of disability benefits to the plaintiff Valentine W. Pulaski.

The following facts are relevant to our disposition:

On August 20, 1961, Pulaski collapsed at a bowling alley in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, and was admitted to the Locust Mountain State Hospital. At the time of his admission, he was "very confused, rambling, agitated," "violent," and "disoriented." His condition was diagnosed as "Acute Mental Depression," and he was transferred on August 30, 1961, to the Danville State Hospital.

Pulaski remained in the Danville Hospital until he was released, after 20 electric shock treatments, on a trial visit December 22, 1961. The Danville Hospital Report, dated January 4, 1962, stated that physical examinations had been "essentially negative," but that Pulaski was suffering from symptoms of "persecution, confusion, depression, impaired memory and poor judgment." The diagnosis was "Involutional Psychotic Reaction." His prognosis was "fair", and he was said to be "in a fairly good remission. He may be able to adjust to an employment situation provided there is a limited amount of stress involved in the work."

On December 13, 1961, prior to his trial release from Danville, Pulaski applied for Social Security disability benefits,*fn2 giving a "nervous breakdown" as his impairment, but benefits were denied on March 29, 1962, on the ground that he was not disabled. Pulaski then filed a request for reconsideration, stating that he became "very dizzy and tired" whenever he had to work. On September 22, 1962, benefits were again denied on the ground that although he was suffering from a mental impairment, it was not severe enough to be disabling. The report upon which the denial of reconsideration was based diagnosed Pulaski's condition as being "schizophrenic reaction, mild." The only mention of any physical impairment was of Pulaski's claim that work made him dizzy and tired.

On March 5, 1963, a de novo hearing was held at Pulaski's request, before a Hearing Examiner of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare ("HEW"), at which he testified that he suffered from severe headaches and dizziness. He stated that while he had experienced such complaints for many years, they had grown much worse since his nervous breakdown in August 1961. He testified that since his breakdown, he had tried two jobs -- shovelling coal and digging graves -- but had had to give both up; that because of his condition he no longer drove a car, except once a week to have Sunday dinner with his daughter.

In addition to the two hospital reports referred to above and Pulaski's testimony, reports by two doctors and an HEW Claims Representative Trainee were admitted into evidence. The report of the Claims Representative was mostly descriptive and was apparently based mainly on statements made by Pulaski to him. The Representative reported that Pulaski had " no obvious defects or signs of pain or discomfort."

A report from a Dr. Coughlin, dated July 18, 1962, diagnosed Pulaski's condition as "Schizophrenic Reaction, Paranoid Type." Dr. Coughlin thought that Pulaski's condition was "static," and that he was "unable to maintain any type work because of mental condition."

A further report on August 21, 1962, by a Dr. Delehanty, who examined Pulaski for HEW recounted Pulaski's past and present medical history. Dr. Delehanty then concluded:

"This man obviously had build [sic] up to an acute schizophrenic reaction. He has been given electric shock therapy and at the present time, is on Thorazine. Presently, I feel he is in a remission from this illness, and how well he would adjust to everyday life, without Thorazine, is a problem, of course!"

The Trial Examiner, on April 17, 1963, found that the treatment while Pulaski was hospitalized in 1961 had "arrested" "the acute phase" of his mental illness. The Examiner concluded that there were "no significant physical complaints" apart from headaches and dizziness, and that since Pulaski had suffered from the latter for nearly 20 years, they could not be considered a disabling impairment. The Examiner's ultimate conclusion was that "there is ...

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