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Doak v. Heckler

May 7, 1986

RAYMOND G. DOAK, APPELLANT
v.
MARGARET M. HECKLER, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) (D.C. Civil No. 84-1215).

Author: Sloviter

Before SLOVITER and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges and LONGOBARDI, District Judge*fn*

Opinion OF THE COURT

SLOVITER, Circuit Judge.

Appellant Raymond Doak is a 54 year old man with a ninth grade education who worked as a maintenance man until August 1982. He filed an application for disability insurance benefits on May 12, 1983, alleging that he had been unable to perform any substantial gainful activity since August 23, 1982 because of back problems, emphysema, chest pains, and feet trouble. The application was denied.

After a hearing de novo, the ALJ concluded that the claimant's emphysema and arthritis would prevent the claimant from performing a job requiring heavy lifting. Since the claimant's last work as a maintenance man required him to lift an excess of 100 pounds, . . . claimant does not have the residual functional capacity of perform his past relevant work . . . .[However] the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work. Light work would entail standing and walking most of an 8 hour day, with lifting of a maximum of 20 pounds.

Tr. at 11. The ALJ added that "there is no evidence that the claimant could not perform a job requiring only the lifting of a maximum of 20 pounds", i.e., light work, and found that claimant's other complaints were not supported by objective medical evidence and were not credible. Id. Because the ALJ found the claimant capable of light work, application of the grid directed a conclusion of not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2 Table 2 (1985).

The Appeals Council denied claimant's request for review. Claimant sought review in the United States Strict Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania which granted the Secretary's motion for summary judgment. This appeal followed.

ON appeal, claimant contends that the ALJ committed several reversible errors: finding that claimant is capable of performing light work; improperly discounting the opinion of the appellant's treating physician; not considering the combined effects of claimant's impairments and disregarding his subjective complaints of disabling pain; and improperly using the medical-vocational guidelines. We find the first issue dispositive.

The standard of review is whether the Secretary's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971). In prosecuting a disability claim, the claimant's initial burden is to demonstrate the existence of a medically determinable disability which precludes resumption of previous employment. Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 217 (3d Cir. 1984); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979); Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979). Once the claimant has done so, the burden shifts to the Secretary to show that, considering the claimant's age, education, and work experience, the claimant has the capacity to perform jobs that exist in the national economy. Id.

In the instant case, the ALJ concluded that the appellant has a severe impairment which is not disabling per se but does not have the residual functional capacity to perform his past relevant work. In determining whether appellant could nonetheless engage in substantial gainful activity, the ALJ made the critical finding that claimant was able to do light work. That finding is not supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The record consists of claimant's testimony, three medical reports made between June and December 1983, and a vocational expert's testimony. In addition to explaining his ailments, claimant testified that he runs a humidifier in his home, and uses a bronchodilator (for his breathing) and anti-anxiety medication. His average day is spent watching television in a sitting position, after which he often eats out with friends and drinks approximately eight beers. (Tr. 34-37).

Dr. Glenn Roberts, claimant's treating physician, described claimant's complaints and made the following observations in December 1983:

Xray suggests patient has an arthritic condition, with a spur formation in lumbar area, and contributes to his severe pain ...


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