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Schaaf v. Matthews

filed: March 17, 1978.

FRED G. SCHAAF, APPELLANT,
v.
DAVID MATTHEWS, AS SECRETARY OF HEALTH, EDUCATION, AND WELFARE



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. C.A. No. 76-1303.

Adams, Biggs and Weis, Circuit Judges.

Author: Adams

Opinion OF THE COURT

ADAMS, Circuit Judge

This is an appeal from a denial of black lung benefits. Because the record does not disclose the basis for a crucial element of the Secretary's findings, the matter will be remanded.

Fred G. Schaaf, now 78 years old, worked in coal mines for thirty-six years. In January of 1970, Schaaf filed an application for black lung benefits. The claim was denied initially in November of 1970, and denied twice on administrative reconsideration under the 1972 Amendments. On January 16, 1972, after a hearing, an administrative law judge affirmed the denial. The administrative law judge's decision was approved by the Social Security Appeals Council. Denial of Schaaf's claim then was affirmed by the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. An appeal from the district court's decision is now before us.

As we recently outlined in Gober v. Matthews,*fn1 an applicant for black lung benefits who has worked in the mines more than 15 years can claim entitlement on the basis of any of three showings: (1) X-rays "establishing" pneumoconiosis, (2) ventilatory tests demonstrating disabling respiratory disease, or (3) "other relevant evidence" establishing disability due to respiratory disease.*fn2 In this case, the claimant provided all three varieties of evidence.

Schaaf submitted two X-rays which were read as "compatible with" pneumoconiosis, and one which was interpreted as definitely demonstrating pneumoconiosis. However, the two "compatible" X-rays were each reread by three other physicians as completely negative for pneumoconiosis, and a fourth X-ray was submitted which was construed by two physicians as negative. Regardless of our opinion of his action, the administrative law judge's decision that the X-rays failed to establish the existence of pneumoconiosis is not without substantial support in the record.*fn3

Likewise, Schaaf submitted five ventilatory studies, and all but one would have qualified him for benefits. The administrative law judge found on the basis of the opinions of medical consultants that five of the studies were technically unsatisfactory. He also rejected the sixth study, on the ground that it "traced a single effort on FEV and made no tracing of MVV."*fn4 In view of the statement in the record by Dr. Harold Passes that studies with less than three individual tests "cannot be medically accepted,"*fn5 we are unable to conclude that the administrative law judge's decision in this respect was without substantial evidentiary support.

Schaaf also based his claim on "other relevant evidence." He testified that he suffers from a cough both morning and night which produces thick black phlegm. His breath is short, he can walk only half a block before he has to stop, and can climb only two or three steps at a time. Because of difficulty in breathing when he is fully reclined, he sleeps propped up. He has not been able to do household chores since the late 1960s.

In addition, Schaaf submitted letters from two physicians who have dealt with his medical difficulties, Dr. Gilbert Reed, a general practitioner who has been treating Schaaf since 1970, detailed his findings thus:

My impression was that the patient is totally and permanently disabled due to anthracosilicosis first stage with bilateral emphysema. His hypertension and present diabetes mellitus which I have treated him for in no way contributes to his disability.*fn6

Dr. John Mika, who had attended Schaaf since 1975 likewise set forth the results of his examination and stated:

On the basis of the physical examination, the work history, the chest X-ray, and the pulmonary function study, it is my impression that Mr. Fred Schaaf is totally disabled ...


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