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BLACKBURN v. HECKLER

August 6, 1985

TOMMY BLACKBURN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARGARET M. HECKLER, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shadur, Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Tommy Blackburn ("Blackburn") seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("Secretary") denying Blackburn disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits, initially applied for under Social Security Act ("Act") §§ 216(i), 223 and 1602, 42 U.S.C. § 416(i), 423 and 1381a. After a March 12, 1984 evidentiary hearing (the "Hearing"), on May 18, 1984 Administrative Law Judge Irving Stillerman ("ALJ Stillerman" or simply the "ALJ") denied Blackburn's application. Blackburn then exhausted his administrative remedies in proper sequence (a process that resulted in the ALJ's decision becoming Secretary's) and brought this action against Secretary pursuant to Act § 205(g), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Because this action stands in a different posture from the mine run social security case brought to this Court, Blackburn has not followed the typical course of filing a motion for summary judgment. Rather — for reasons this opinion will explore in due course — the has moved for a remand to the ALJ for further consideration. Secretary, however, seeks summary judgment affirming the ALJ's decision. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, each litigant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

Medical Background

Blackburn, who was 56 years old at the time of the hearing before ALJ Stillerman and who has completed eight years of schooling, was born in Kentucky, where he worked for a number of years as a coal miner. Since moving to Chicago some 15 years ago, he has worked primarily as a gas station attendant and as a machine operator for several manufacturing concerns. Most recently he worked as a laundromat attendant, a job that ended in 1978 when ownership of the laundromat changed.

Blackburn has suffered a number of injuries (some work-related) over the course of his life. Among them were amputation, of the top portion of his left thumb, a broken jaw as a result of which he can open his mouth no wider than an inch, and broken ribs. In addition he suffers "mild respiratory impairment" (R. 224) deriving in part from his work in the coal mines and as a result of which he receives black lung benefits.

Those impairments, which Blackburn has suffered for some time, are not the principal basis for his application for disability benefits. Rather Blackburn focuses on a series of hospitalizations beginning in 1978 for gastrointestinal bleeding:

    1. In July 1978 Blackburn was admitted to Swedish
  Covenant Hospital ("Swedish Covenant"), suffering from
  black vomiting, black stools and abdominal pain. Tests
  revealed no ulcer or other course of bleeding. Two
  days after admission Blackburn was discharged at his
  own insistence. His discharge summary (R. 109)
  reflects a diagnosis of upper gastrointestinal
  bleeding of unknown etiology and describes Blackburn
  as a "moderate alcohol abuser." Elsewhere in the
  hospital records he is described as a "known
  alcoholic."
    2. In September 1981 Blackburn was again admitted to
  Swedish Covenant, this time complaining of shortness
  of breath and abdominal pain. He was diagnosed as a
  habitual alcoholic suffering from acute ethanol
  intoxication (R. 179). While in the hospital he
  suffered delirium tremens episodes, and tests gave
  some evidence of myocardial injury, perhaps induced by
  alcohol. Against medical advice Blackburn signed
  himself out of the hospital two days after he had been
  admitted (R. 180).
    3. In December 1982 Blackburn was admitted to
  Swedish Covenant, again with gastrointestinal
  bleeding. He was released after five days with a
  diagnosis of possible peptic ulcer disease (R. 197).
    4. In October 1983 Blackburn was admitted to Swedish
  Covenant once again, this time with a diagnosis of
  chronic alcoholism, duodenal ulcer, iron deficiency
  anemia and chronic obstructive lung disease (R. 202).
  He was released ten days later.

Other evidence on the administrative record includes:

    1. a January 19, 1979 report by consulting physician
  Dr. S. Patel, stating Blackburn suffered from possible
  peptic ulcer syndrome in addition to the impairments
  deriving from his earlier work-related injuries;
    2. a January 1, 1984 report by Dr. Iraj Delfani, who
  has treated Blackburn since October 1983, reflecting
  Blackburn suffers from chronic alcoholism that has
  resulted in brain damage, a duodenal ulcer and iron
  deficiency anemia (Dr. Delfani considered Blackburn
  disabled, primarily on account of the alcohol-induced
  brain damage); and
    3. a March 6, 1984 psychological/occupational
  evaluation of Blackburn by psychologist William
  Fischer, finding Blackburn's IQ in the mid-70s and
  describing Blackburn as "a psychologically, if not
  physically, impotent individual who carries the
  diagnosis of alcoholism, organic brain dysfunction
  with psychosis, and is not capable of participating in
  any kind of substantial gainful activity" (R. 221).

In support of his current motion Blackburn has offered additional medical evidence discovered after the administrative record was closed. It reflects three hospitalizations in December 1979 and January 1980:

    1. On December 16, 1979 Blackburn was admitted to
  Ravenswood Hospital ("Ravenswood"), complaining he had
  been coughing and vomiting blood. His discharge
  summary (Ex. C 44-45) reflects a history of heavy beer
  consumption and a diagnosis of possible gastric
  cancer. Blackburn discharged himself against medical
  advice.
    2. On January 6, 1980 Blackburn was again admitted
  to Ravenswood for further tests designed to confirm or
  rule out

  the diagnosis of gastric cancer. Blackburn again left
  the hospital before tests could be completed.
    3. On January 22, 1980 Blackburn was once more
  admitted to Ravenswood. This time the contemplated
  tests were performed, revealing no tumor cells.
  Blackburn was discharged with a diagnosis of gastric
  ulcer, to be followed on an outpatient basis.*fn1

Blackburn's Claims History

Blackburn's claims posture is complicated both by eligibility regulations and by his prior history of filing disability claims. To begin with the regulations, a claimant is ineligible for either disability insurance or supplemental security income benefits if he or she does not satisfy the special earnings requirements set out in 20 C.F.R. § 404.130.*fn2 Under Section 130(b), which states the applicable rule for present purposes, Blackburn must have acquired 20 "quarters of coverage" in the 40-calendar-quarter (ten-year) period ending with the calendar quarter in which he seeks the commencement of benefits. Because each quarter of coverage is credited on the basis of the claimant's covered earnings in that quarter (Sections 140 to 146), and because Blackburn has had no covered earnings since 1977, he satisfied the special earnings requirement only through June 30, 1979 (R. 97). That termination of Blackburn's insured status under the Act means he could be entitled to benefits only for a period of disability that began no later than June 30, 1979.

Blackburn first applied for disability benefits in July 1978, claiming he had been unable to work since July 1977. That application was initially denied. Pursuing his administrative remedies, Blackburn requested an evidentiary hearing, which took place sometime in 1979. Blackburn represented himself at that hearing. On June 8, ...


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