The opinion of the court was delivered by: KEYS
Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on December 24, 1991, claiming that he had been disabled since November 1, 1991 because of high blood pressure and asthma. (R. at 30-33.)
After the Social Security Administration denied his application and request for reconsideration of that denial (R. at 34-40), Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing (R. at 40), which was conducted by Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Richard E. Sprague on January 25, 1993. (R. at 300-365.) On October 8, 1993, ALJ Sprague issued a decision finding that, while the medical records revealed that Plaintiff suffered from hypertension, asthma, diabetes, problems with his left shoulder, and cataracts, he was not disabled because he could still perform his past relevant work as a helper on a handicapped van. (R. at 244-251.) Therefore, his application for SSI was denied.
On December 6, 1993, Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's finding that he was not disabled by filing a Request for Review with the Appeals Council. (R. at 252.) On March 22, 1994, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ to resolve inconsistencies which it found in the ALJ's analysis regarding Plaintiff's ability to perform his past work as a handicapped van helper. (R. at 254-255.)
Upon remand, ALJ Sprague conducted another hearing on July 24, 1994 (R. at 360-408), after which, on November 16, 1994, the ALJ issued another decision, again finding that Plaintiff could still perform his past work and was, therefore, not disabled. (R. at 15-22.) In so finding, the ALJ found, in addition to the impairments enumerated in his earlier decision, that Plaintiff suffered from mild depression and controlled alcohol use. On November 25, 1994, Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council. (R. at 10.) On July 24, 1995, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's Request for Review, finding that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence (R. at 4-5), which denial stands as the final decision of the Commissioner and is the subject of the Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment now before this Court.
At the first hearing, Plaintiff testified that he was then 52 years old, having been born on August 18, 1940. He is now 56 years of age. He completed nine years of school and has had no vocational training. Other than doing odd jobs, such as cutting grass and painting, he had last worked regularly about two or three years earlier as a janitor, and was subsisting on public aid. After being laid off from the job as a janitor, he worked about three days a week, when needed, as a helper on a van which transported handicapped individuals to and from hospitals, nursing homes, and other destinations. (R. at 304-313.) As Plaintiff described that job at the first hearing, there was no lifting involved, and he worked less than full-time, for which he was paid about $ 60.00 per week. (R. at 312.) He continued to do that work until the company went out of business.
In describing his medical problems, Plaintiff testified that he had asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, cramps in his left shoulder (he is right-handed, R. at 305) when he lifts something, and blurred vision at night. (R. at 319-323.) In describing his daily activities, Plaintiff testified that he rents a room in the apartment of a friend and that he cooks, cleans, shops and does his own laundry. (R. at 327.) He would walk about three miles three times per week pursuant to his doctor's instructions. From Plaintiff's testimony, it appeared that all of his medical problems were controlled with medications. (R. at 319-324.)
When queried by the ALJ at the first hearing regarding his use of alcohol, Plaintiff testified that, prior to about one year earlier, he would drink about three six-packs of beer per day, but that, when he learned that he had diabetes and asthma, about a year prior to the hearing, he reduced his beer consumption to only about one six-pack within a two-week period. He drank only beer, and has never been treated for alcohol abuse or mental problems. (R. at 328-329.)
At the second hearing, Plaintiff testified that the handicapped van job sometimes, but only occasionally, involved pulling patients' wheelchairs up the ramp of the van or the steps of the patients' homes, which was the heaviest part of the job. He actually worked five days a week, ten hours per day, for about one year. (R. at 378-380.)
By the time of the second hearing, Plaintiff's ability to walk for long distances had, inexplicably, decreased dramatically and his alcohol intake had increased significantly. (R. at 387-389, 392.) He testified that he was then drinking about a six-pack of beer per day and had also begun drinking whiskey, consuming a pint of whiskey in two days. (R. 389-390.) In response to questions from the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that he gets along well with others, has an active social life, his mood fluctuates and that, other than his inability to work, nothing really bothers him. (R. at 394-395.)
Plaintiff testified that he was being treated by doctors at Cook County Hospital, where he had appointments about every four months, at which time his blood pressure is checked and his prescriptions are refilled. (R. at 319.) Plaintiff indicated that he began treatment at Cook County Hospital in July, 1991 for his blood pressure and breathing problems. (R. at 49.) Records from Cook County Hospital reveal that Plaintiff was first admitted on June 24, 1991, and that he had no prior medical history. He was diagnosed as having pneumonia, and was treated and released on July 1, 1991. (R. at 64-82, 172-184.) Plaintiff's follow-up examinations in 1991 and 1992 were uneventful. (R. at 83-88, 213-218.)
On February 18, 1993, Plaintiff complained of worsening vision in both eyes, due to cataracts, and cramps in his left arm and the left side of his neck upon lifting heavy objects. (R. at 221.)
At his next visit, on March 18, 1993, Plaintiff had no specific complaints. (R. at 219.) On June 25, 1993, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Cheryl Kraft-Cooper. He described his main problem as being unable to see at night, noting that he had undergone cataract surgery three months earlier.
The doctor noted that he had hypertension, diabetes and asthma. (R. at 233.) In medical reports from Cook County Hospital dated February 20, 1992, Plaintiff's physician stated that ...