whether the non-alcohol-related factors would have, in the opinion of Dr. Kerr, rendered Plaintiff unable to work, independent of the alcohol abuse. These determinations are crucial in assessing whether Plaintiff is entitled to benefits--assuming he is otherwise disabled--under the newly-enacted legislation. Such determinations are appropriately initially made by the Commissioner, not by the Court.
The Court, having carefully reviewed the ALJ's decision and the entire record, finds that his decision--particularly his finding that Plaintiff's non-exertional impairments are not significant--is not supported by substantial evidence. Based on Plaintiff's testimony, the records from Cook County Hospital, and the reports from his treating physicians, the Court finds no fault with the ALJ's thoroughly analyzed and well-reasoned finding that Plaintiff's physical impairments alone would not prevent him from performing his past work as a handicapped-van helper. However, the opinion of the examining psychologist that Plaintiff is disabled as a result of his mental impairments or by a combination of his physical and mental impairments--which is the only such evidence in the record--was not properly refuted by any other evidence. Therefore, the ALJ's contrary finding in this regard is not supported by substantial evidence.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court remands this matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
Upon remand, the ALJ must initially determine the nature and extent of Plaintiff's non-exertional impairments, including his alcoholism. In particular, he must determine whether these impairments, individually or in combination, are of such severity as to render Plaintiff disabled per se, as found by Dr. Kerr. Assuming the answer to that question is in the negative, the ALJ must then determine whether Plaintiff's mental impairments alone, or in combination with his physical impairments, would render him unable to engage in work functions, as found by Dr. Kerr. As set forth above, these determinations should be made through an evaluation by another psychologist/psychiatrist and/or testimony by such professional at a hearing.
Plaintiff seeks an award of attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412. The Court notes that Plaintiff, in his request for review of the ALJ's decision, alleged that the ALJ had impermissibly rejected the report of Dr. Kerr, even though his report constituted the only evidence in the record concerning Plaintiff's newly alleged mental impairments. Counsel urged that the Commissioner reverse the ALJ's decision or remand the case to another ALJ for further proceedings, including the procurement of further evidence on the mental impairment issue. Counsel noted, as did the Court, that, had the ALJ been dissatisfied with the report of Dr. Kerr, he should have had Plaintiff evaluated by another mental health professional and/or obtained testimony from an expert at the hearing. (R. at 293-299.)
Notwithstanding the admonitions of counsel, the Commissioner sustained the decision of the ALJ. Under these circumstances, the Court finds that the position of the Commissioner was not substantially justified within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. 1412 (a) (2)(d)(1)(A). Therefore, the Court awards fees in favor of Plaintiff and against the Commissioner.
Dated: December 10, 1996
United States Magistrate Judge
JUDGMENT IN A CIVIL CASE
Decision by Court. This action came to a hearing before the Court. The issues have been heard and a decision has been rendered.
IT IS ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment reversing the Commissioner's decision denying his claim for benefits or, in the alternative, an order remanding the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings is granted in part; specifically, Plaintiff's claim is remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings. The Commissioner's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment in her favor is denied.
December 10, 1996