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Gilliland v. Heckler

March 19, 1986


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania - Pittsburgh (Civil Action No. 83-2913).

Author: Stapleton

BEFORE: GARTH and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges, and BISSELL, District Judge*fn*

STAPLETON, Circuit Judge

In this appeal, we review the Secretary's decision that Appellant, Robert L. Gilliland, is not entitled to disability payments. The district court granted the Secretary's motion for summary judgment. Appellant jurisdiction exists pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1291. We reverse.


Robert L. Gilliland ("Claimant"), filed an application for disability benefits in October, 1982, alleging disability based on both mental and physical grounds commencing as of March 17, 1982.*fn1 His application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. After a hearing, held on May 31, 1983, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") determined that Claimant possessed the ability to engage in sedentary work and thus was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review and Claimant then sought judicial relief in the district court. The district court affirmed the Secretary's evaluation. The Claimant's appeal challenges that determination as it relates to his mental condition.


Claimant was 59 years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ. He had a college degree in business administration and one year of graduate study in finance. He had last been employed as an executive vice president of a bank which he served for 35 years.

Sometime in 1980, Claimant and those around him noticed that he was having difficulty with his memory and in performing calculations and other work-related procedures. His family physician referred him to a neurologist. On March 17, 1982, he was placed on a medical leave of absence from the bank because of his memory deficit and never thereafter returned to this employment. Claimant's physicians agree that he is suffering from a dementing and progressive illness, most likely Alzheimer's disease.

The relevant medical record begins in 1981, when Claimant, because of concerns about memory loss, was seen by a neurologist, David D. Wright, M.D. Dr. Wright's report noted that Claimant had difficulty naming recent Presidents (omitting Eisenhower, Kennedy, Ford and Carter) and thought the date was April 20, 1981, when in fact it was May 1, 1981. Dr. Wright recommended further observation and tentatively diagnosed Claimant's condition as "a very mild depression or very early gray matter degeneration such as Alzheimer's Disease."

Claimant underwent a more comprehensive examination on May 20 and 21, 1982 by Terence McGillen, B.S., at the University of Pittsburgh, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. The testing revealed that, although Claimant was currently functioning within an average range of intelligence, his condition was consistent with the onset of dementia. The examiners concluded that the Claimant was unable to return to his prior employment and suggested that the progressive nature of the disorder rendered further pursuance of alternate vocational activities as inadvisable. They recommended supportive psychotherapy or rehabilitation counseling as well as avocational or recreational counseling.

Dr. Paul S. Applebaum, M.D., a psychiatrist, examined Claimant on May 11, 1982, and evaluated the Claimant's condition based on both his examination of Claimant and the University of Pittsburgh testing. Among other observations, Dr. Applebaum reported that Claimant was unable to name any presidents other than Regan, Carter, Nixon and Johnson. He knew he had been married since 1947, but did not know how long ago that was. In the neuropsychological testing, the patient was found to demonstrate "average intelligence, but to display profound deficits in memory, spacial reasoning, abstract thinking and generalizing ability, logical planning and sequencing ability, and in stereognostic and kinesthetic abilities [the ability to perceive position, movement, tension, etc. of parts of one's body]."

Dr. Applebaum concluded that the Claimant was suffering from the initial states of a dementing illness, "most likely Alzheimer's Disease," and that the Claimants' condition could continue to deteriorate. Applebaum stated that Claimant would be unable to return to his job as a bank vice president, and wrote that "if he is able to obtain substitute employment, it will inevitably be at a substantially lower level." In an interview with the Claimant held on June 8, 1982, Applebaum discussed "the possibility of his obtaining alternate employment, but almost certainly at a level well below that to which he is accustomed."

In December, 1982, Dr. Wright reported to the Social Security office concerning his most recent examination of Claimant, which had taken place on September 7, 1982.

On the last neurological examination on September 7, 1982, he was oriented but vague on current events. He could name recent Presidents but not in order. He had difficulty with simple calculations such as 28 plus 17 and 21 minus 7 although he did come up with the right answer after a second try. More complicated subtractions were performed on paper but there some perseverations [The persistent continuation of a line of thought or activity once it is underway; inappropriate repetition] with more figures being produced than were asked for . . . Even though his outward appearance appears normal[,] based on the current knowledge available, I do not expect that this patient will become employable in the near future.

A residual functioning capacity assessment was performed by V. Rama Kumar, M.D., a family practitioner, on November 22, 1982, Dr. Kumar found that Claimant had "profound deficits in memory, spatial reasoning, and abstract thinking, suggesting significant organic involvement." He further noted "marked impairment of attention, concentration, memory of past performance, [and] visual analysis. . . . " Dr. ...

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