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Hargenrader v. Califano

argued: February 22, 1978.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil No. 76-31).

Aldisert, Van Dusen and Weis, Circuit Judges. Aldisert, Circuit Judge, dissenting.

Author: Van Dusen


VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judge

Plaintiff, Eugene A. Hargenrader, brought this action in the district court under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for review of the decision by the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, denying plaintiff's application for disability benefits pursuant to §§ 216(i) and 223(d) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d). Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. Finding that the decision of the Secretary was based on substantial evidence, the district court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment.*fn1 Because the decision of the hearing examiner does not adequately state findings of fact to support its conclusions, as required by our decision in Baerga v. Richardson, 500 F.2d 309 (3d Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 931, 43 L. Ed. 2d 403, 95 S. Ct. 1133 (1975), we reverse.

Since at least 1969 the plaintiff has had erythema multiforme,*fn2 an acute skin disease which causes him to suffer from severe, periodic itching, swelling, peeling, and burning in the areas of the neck, throat, jawline, forearms, hands, groin, knees and toes. Outbreaks occur when the plaintiff comes into contact with certain substances or irritants, which include fiberglass, plastics, paints, stains, glue, plaster, lubricants, certain types of carpets, ceiling tile and certain medications. During the outbreaks, Hargenrader is physically incapacitated, often bedridden, and cannot work. According to the uncontroverted testimony of both Hargenrader and his wife, when Hargenrader was employed, attacks would occur 15 to 18 times per year, causing him to miss work more than half the time. After he ceased working on his physician's advice, attacks still occurred several times a year, causing him to be disabled for varying periods from one day to two weeks.

Hargenrader also suffers from a back problem which prevents him from lifting heavy objects, a hiatal hernia in the middle of the chest, an ulcer, and nervousness, attributable to his skin disease, which requires a regular dosage of strong tranquilizers. He has held a number of jobs as an unskilled laborer and has also been a self-employed carpenter, but he has been unemployed since his physician advised him not to work. In addition to his medical problems, his employment opportunities are limited by his educational background: he graduated last in his high school class and had an I.Q. of 91.

A vocational expert testified before the hearing examiner that if Hargenrader could be placed in a job where he would not come into contact with the substances which aggravate his condition, he would be able to hold a job. He named several such jobs and testified that those jobs existed in significant numbers in Western Pennsylvania.

To receive benefits under the Act, plaintiff must prove that he is under a "disability," that is, an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months; . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Thus, plaintiff must prove both physical or mental impairment and inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972).

As the district court found and the hearing examiner implied, the medical evidence clearly establishes that Hargenrader suffers from a physical impairment. However, the hearing examiner also made the following findings:

"2. The claimant was not prevented from engaging in any substantial gainful activity for any continuous period beginning on or before the date of this decision which has lasted or could be expected to last for at least 12 months.

"3. The claimant is able to perform many types of jobs which exist in substantial numbers in the Western Pennsylvania area as testified to by the vocational expert witness.

"4. The claimant was not under a 'disability' as defined in the Social Security Act, as amended, at any time through the date of this decision."

Administrative Transcript, 10-11 (hereinafter cited A.T.). Findings 2 and 3 are ultimate findings of fact and finding 4 is a conclusion of law ...

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