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ANDREWS v. HECKLER

November 3, 1983

JAMES P. ANDREWS
v.
MARGARET M. HECKLER, Secretary of Health and Human Services



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRODERICK

 BRODERICK, J.

 This is an action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) to review a final decision of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (Secretary) denying James P. Andrews' claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. This matter is now before the Court on cross-motions of the parties for summary judgment.

 Claimant Andrews' initial application for SSI disability benefits and his request for reconsideration were both denied. On March 2, 1982 his application was considered de novo at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), at which time the claimant was represented by counsel. The ALJ's decision denying benefits was subsequently affirmed by the Appeals Council on August 26, 1982 and thereby became the final decision of the Secretary.

 Upon careful consideration of the entire record, we conclude that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the evidence of claimant's chronic alcoholism in conjunction with the other alleged impairments which formed the basis for his disability claim. Therefore, the cross-motions of the parties for summary judgment will be denied and the case remanded to the Secretary for further consideration.

 Claimant James Andrews is 43 years old and has a tenth grade education. He has had work experience as a truck driver and laborer in the roofing business, dishwasher, gas station and parking lot attendant, bartender, cab driver and porter. (T. 56). At his hearing before the ALJ, claimant stated that he was on welfare and had not worked in 3 1/2 to 4 years. (T. 27-29). He identified alcoholism as his "main problem" and admitted to being a chronic alcoholic since age 17. (T. 40). He drinks between one-half gallon and a gallon of wine per day, as well as a fifth of liquor if he has enough money. (T. 30, 38). He has experienced blackouts, amnesia and hallucinations when drinking. (T. 44). Claimant also complains of problems with his feet, testifying that he can only walk 6-7 blocks and can only stand for 20-30 minutes. (T. 35, 37). In addition, he suffers from back pain, shortness of breath, loss of vision in his left eye and a nervous condition, for which he takes Valium.

 The record also contains a physical examination of claimant conducted by Dr. Stephen E. Mitteldorf on behalf of the Secretary. (T. 107-109). His report of April 2, 1981 notes that claimant has "long standing alcoholism" with "no apparent physical stigmata of chronic alcoholic disease such as neuropathy, upper GI disease or hepatic disease." The most recent medical evidence in the record which discusses claimant's alcohol abuse is a psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Alan Keller of the Philadelphia Psychiatric Center, dated March 15, 1982. (T. 145-147). Dr. Keller's primary diagnosis was "alcohol dependency, continuous"; a secondary diagnosis of "antisocial personality disorder" and "borderline personality disorder" was also indicated. Dr. Keller concludes that "the patient's abuse of alcohol and interrelated personality disorders make him unable to work and he has . . . been unable to work due to these problems for at least 2-3 years."

 Under the Social Security Act, the claimant has the initial burden of establishing disability. Hess v. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, 497 F.2d 837, 840 (3d Cir. 1974). This burden is sustained when the claimant demonstrates an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment. . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). See id. at § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Secretary's regulations set forth a 5-part sequential process which an ALJ must follow in evaluating disability claims. See Santise v. Schweiker, 676 F.2d 925, 927 (3d Cir. 1982), appeal docketed No. 81-1983 (April 26, 1982). The initial inquiry is whether claimant is currently working; if so, disability is denied. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Secondly, the ALJ determines, solely on the basis of medical evidence and without reference to vocational factors, whether the claimed impairment is "severe", i.e. significantly limits ability to do basic work activities; if it is not severe, disability is denied. Id. at § 404.1520(c). Thirdly, the ALJ considers, again solely on the basis of medical evidence, whether the claimed impairment equals or exceeds those described in Appendix I of the regulations; if so, benefits are automatically awarded. Id. at § 404.1520(d). If disability cannot be determined by these previous steps, a fourth inquiry is considered: whether the claimant has the "residual functional capacity" -- what an individual "can still do despite his limitations" -- to perform past work. Id. at §§ 404.1520(a), 404.1545(a). If the claimant does not have the residual functional capacity to return to previous work, the claimant has, at this point, presented a prima facie case for disability; the burden then shifts to the Secretary to demonstrate claimant has the capacity to perform specific jobs existing in the national economy. Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). In the instant case, the ALJ's inquiry ceased at the second level. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Because it was determined that James Andrews did not have a "severe" mental or physical impairment, the ALJ denied his disability claim.

 I.

 The ALJ must make "specific subordinate findings of fact to support his ultimate factual findings." Hargenrader v. Califano, 575 F.2d 434, 436 (3d Cir. 1978). In addition to explaining the "relative weight and credibility of the evidence before him," the ALJ must make "explicit statements as to 'what portions of the evidence he accepted or rejected.'" Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 409 (3d Cir. 1979). See also Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir. 1981). As stated by the Court in Baerga v. Richardson, 500 F.2d 309, 312 (3d Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 931, 95 S. Ct. 1133, 43 L. Ed. 2d 403 (1975),

 
as factfinder . . . [the ALJ] has the right to reject testimony entirely, but failure to indicate rejection could lead to a conclusion that he neglected to consider it at all.

 It follows, therefore, that a reviewing court has good cause to remand a case to the Secretary "where relevant, probative and available evidence was not explicitly weighed" by the ALJ in evaluating a disability claim. Saldana v. ...


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