United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
March 31, 2004.
ROBERT JARMON, Plaintiff,
JO ANN B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARLANDER KEYS, Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Robert Jarmon applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and
Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on June 25, 1999, claiming that he
suffers from both physical and mental impairments that prevent him from
working. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Mr. Jarmon's
application, and, after exhausting his appeal rights before the SSA, Mr.
Jarmon filed an action in the United States District Court seeking review
of the agency's decision. The case is before the Court on the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment.
Facts and Procedural History
Robert Jarmon, now forty-one years old, is an Army veteran with the
equivalent of a high school education and two associate's degrees, one
for cosmetology and the other for network security. Record at 17, 450. In
the past, Mr. Jarmon
has worked as a beautician, a cook, and a painter. Record at 57. He
last worked as a park maintenance worker; he was on the job for
approximately two months when he had to quit because of his impairments.
Record at 452.
Mr. Jarmon applied for SSI and DIB on June 25, 1999, claiming on his
application that, as of March 1, 1999, he was unable to work because of
varicose veins in his lower extremities, blood clots, substance abuse and
mental problems. Record at 56-60. The SSA denied his claim initially and
on reconsideration. Mr. Jarmon requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge, and the case was assigned to Judge Alfred
Burton, who held a hearing on August 14, 2000.
At the hearing, the ALJ heard from Mr. Jarmon, who testified first, and
from Dr. Richard Zaloudek, a medical expert. Mr. Jarmon, who was
represented by counsel, testified that he was currently living in a
shelter, that he was single, had never been married and had no children.
Record at 448. He testified that he received a GED in 1982, and that he
had associates degrees in both cosmetology and security. Id. at
449. Mr. Jarmon testified that he served in the United States Army from
January 7, 1980 to January 7, 1983, when he was honorably discharged.
Id. at 450. He testified that he had been receiving disability
payments in connection with his service in the Army since 1983; as of
December 1999, he received $794 per month for service-connected
disability. Id. at 451-52. He also testified that he was not
working, that he last worked in March of 1999, when he developed blood
clots in his legs and had to quit his job. Id. at 452. He
alleges that his disability onset date was March 1, 1999. Id. at
460. Mr. Jarmon testified that, prior to his park maintenance job with
the North Chicago Park District, he worked as a cook and as a painter.
Id. at 453-58.
With respect to his impairments, Mr. Jarmon testified that he suffered
frostbite to his legs in 1982, and then developed varicose veins in both
legs, but more predominantly in his right leg, and ulcers in his right
ankle. Id. at 460. He testified that, in addition to his leg
problems, he also suffers from depression; he testified that he had been
receiving treatment for his depression since about March of 1999, and
that he was currently taking anti-depressants. Id. at 461-62.
With respect to his daily activities, he testified that he doesn't
really do much during the day, he just pretty much sits around at the
shelter, and spends his time alone; he participates in weekly counseling
sessions, he watches television and reads the paper, sometimes he takes a
walk or goes to the park. Id. at 463, 466-68. He testified that
he had abused drugs and alcohol in the past, but that he was not using
either at the time of the
"hearing; he testified that he last drank in May of 2000.
Id. at 464-65. In response to questioning from his attorney, Mr.
Jarmon testified that he can walk a block or two before he runs out of
breath, and, even then, he has to walk slowly because of his ulcers and
varicose veins. Id. at 468-69. He testified that he uses a cane,
on the advice of his doctor. Id. at 471. He testified that his
depression make it difficult for him to concentrate, sit or read for any
significant period of time. Id. at 471-72. He testified that he
feels kind of confused, he hears noises (babies crying, cats purring and
meowing) that aren't really there, sometimes he thinks people are trying
to harm him. Id. at 474. He testified that he is forgetful, and
that he has difficulty sleeping. Id. at 475. In response to
questions from the medical expert, Mr. Jarmon testified that he had been
hospitalized several times for mental problems, and that one time, at
Hines, he was told that "the alcohol and drugs was part of me being
depressed so they took me to the alcohol and drug unit." Id. at
After Mr. Jarmon, Dr. Zaloudek testified. He testified that, in his
opinion, Mr. Jarmon has a severe impairment that includes drug and
alcohol abuse and dependence, which is in early remission, and that he
also has a schizoaffective disorder, which Dr. Zaloudek characterized as
a depression that can show up with a person being
a loner or a social isolated. And can have
symptoms of hallucinations or paranoia. It falls
between the condition of schizophrenia and major
depression. Sometimes the person has problems
collecting their thoughts and difficulties with
concentration. And they're put on usually a
combination of medications such as
anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medications.
Record at 483. Dr. Zaloudek testified that Mr. Jarmon's mental
impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. Id. He
testified that, functionally, Mr. Jarmon's depression would make him
agitated and cause him to suffer deficits of concentration; he testified
that Mr. Jarmon would have "marked difficulties" completing a normal
workday or a normal workweek because "he wouldn't be able to maintain
contration without the interference of psychological problems."
Id. at 484. Dr. Zaloudek testified that, in his view, Mr. Jarmon
would have "moderate restrictions of daily activities and social
functioning, but frequent deficiencies of concentration, persistence of
pace." Id. at 485. He testified that Mr. Jarmon experienced
sleep difficulties, psychomotor agitation and difficulties with
concentration, which "would be enough to satisfy the criteria of a major
affective disorder." Id.
In addition to the testimony of Mr. Jarmon and Dr. Zaloudek, the ALJ
considered Mr. Jarmon's extensive record of medical treatments and
assessments. According to that record, Mr. Jarmon
was admitted to the North Chicago VA Hospital (NCVA) on October 5,
1998 for alcohol and substance abuse. He was referred to NCVA by his
probation officer, who was monitoring Mr. Jarmon in the wake of a
domestic violence incident, after he showed up to an appointment under
the influence of alcohol. Record at 246. The records from NCVA show that,
at the time he was admitted, Mr. Jarmon reported that he had started
drinking at age 14, that he drank 1 to 2 pints of gin per day, plus a
six-pack of beer; he stated that he had had his last drink about two
weeks prior to his admission. Record at 252. He further reported that he
had started using cocaine in 1994, and that his habit was up to about
$300 per day; he reported that he had last used cocaine three weeks
before his admission. Id. As part of the admission process, NCVA
also conducted a psychiatric evaluation; the evaluator concluded that Mr.
Jarmon had no major depressive or psychotic symptoms, and no suicidal or
homicidal ideations. Record at 251. The record shows that, by October 22,
1998, the NCVA staff had diagnosed Mr. Jarmon with alcohol and cocaine
dependence, in early partial remission in a controlled environment, and
major depressive disorder, recurrent, with psychotic features. Record at
235. According to the notes from that date, Mr. Jarmon's "major diagnosis
is Borderline Personality Disorder with sequelae of substance abuse and
depression. He reports history of chaotic, violent relationships
and self harming behavior." Id. The notes conclude that, given
this diagnosis, "Mr. Jarmon's prognosis for recovery is very poor."
Id. While at NCVA, Mr. Jarmon started taking anti-depressants,
and, over time, some of the negative symptoms he had experienced lessened
or stopped altogether; the record shows that Mr. Jarmon started sleeping
better, he stopped engaging in self harming behaviors, stopped biting his
nails, stopped pulling out his lashes and hair; he became calmer and less
anxious. See, e.g., Record at 194, 196, 213.
The record shows that, in the middle of his stay at NCVA, Mr. Jarmon
was admitted to the West Side VA Hospital for treatment of his "veinous
thrombosis" and blood clots. Record at 102-125. For the latter, Mr.
Jarmon underwent two venograms with urikinase treatment, but when the
clots persisted, the doctors prescribed a long-term course of
anticoagulants (coumadin) and discharged him on March 31, 1999; he was
instructed to report directly to the halfway house at NCVA. Id.
The record shows that, upon returning to NCVA, Mr. Jarmon reported
feeling more anxious and his sleep problems appeared to re-emerge.
See, e.g., record at 190, 191. The notes from April 12, 1999
show that Mr. Jarmon reported experiencing "psychological or emotional
problems on 30 days during the past
30 days"; that he experienced "serious depression, serious anxiety
or tension, trouble understanding, concentrating or remembering and
trouble controlling violent behavior"; and that he had "serious thoughts
of suicide in the past 30 days." Record at 182. According to the
evaluator, Mr. Jarmon's representations on April 12 were "not
significantly distorted by misrepresentation." Id. Just a week
later, however, the attending psychiatrist's notes show that Mr. Jarmon
was "stable," with no symptoms of depression or anxiety, and that he
denied having any suicidal or homicidal ideations. Record at 181. A note
from May 13, 1999 confirms that Mr. Jarmon was "doing well, his sleeping
pattern has stabilized; his depressive [symptoms] lifted." Record at 170.
On June 7, 1999, NCVA discharged Mr. Jarmon from its program, when he
failed to return to the facility after being granted a weekend pass.
Record at 164.
The record shows that Mr. Jarmon returned to the NCVA on June 17, 1999,
stayed for a few days, and was then discharged on June 22, 1999 when he,
once again, failed to return to the facility. Record at 162. On June 30,
1999, Mr. Jarmon turned up at the West Side VA Hospital, seeking a
psychiatric clearance so that he could obtain a room in the YMCA. He was
evaluated in the psychiatry assessment clinic, he reported that he had
been sober for the past nine months, he denied any drug or alcohol use
any affective or psychotic symptoms, and, in the end, he was deemed
"stable to obtain housing at the YMCA." Record at 121-22.
It is unclear whether Mr. Jarmon ever actually received housing at the
YMCA. But the record shows that, on July 21, 1999, he was admitted to
Skokie Meadows Nursing Center, a facility that provided short-term and
long-term care for individuals with psychiatric disorders, substance
abuse problems, or both. Record at 263, 82. According to a "report of
contact" form in the record, Mr. Jarmon was admitted to Skokie Meadows
for short-term care "for sobriety"; the administrator who spoke to the
SSA representative reported that Mr. Jarmon had "no real psychiatric
diagnosis," and that he "has some depression, probably secondary to his
substance abuse." Record at 82.
The record shows that Mr. Jarmon returned to the NCVA on April 17,
2000. According to the notes in the file, Mr. Jarmon was incarcerated for
three months, from about December of 1999 to March of 2000, after he
violated an order of protection issued for his long-time, on-and-off
girlfriend. Record at 378-80. He went to NCVA shortly after his release
to see whether he should re-start coumadin to help with his blood clots,
and was told that that was not necessary. Id. at 380. He
returned to West Side VA Hospital the next month, after relapsing into
substance abuse. Id. at 379. In addition to the relapse, in May
of 2000 Mr.
Jarmon also suffered two episodes where he was temporarily blinded
and felt numb on his left side. Record at 377. He was admitted to West
Side VA Hospital on May 17, 2000, and, after a psychiatry assessment, was
re-started on anti-depressants. Record at 374, 378. Mr. Jarmon was
discharged from the hospital on May 22, 2000. Id. at 364.
On June 8, 2000, Mr. Jarmon returned to NCVA for substance abuse
treatment. Record at 421. He was admitted that day, and diagnosed with
alcohol and cocaine dependence, dysthymic disorder, borderline
personality disorder, deep venous thrombosis, and varicosities of the
lower extremeties. Id. Progress notes from June 23, 2000
indicate that Mr. Jarmon resumed taking antidepressants because of his
continued sleep disturbances and anxiety symptoms; he denied having any
suicidal or homicidal ideations. Id. at 405. Notes from July 13,
2000 indicate that, by that date, Mr. Jarmon had completed the substance
abuse treatment program and was stable for discharge; he had no symptoms
of major depression, mania or psychosis and was experiencing no suicidal
or homicidal ideations. Record at 389. The notes show that the plan upon
discharge was for Mr. Jarmon to receive follow up care at the West Side
VA Hospital. Id.
In addition to the treatment records, the documentary
evidence before the ALJ also included reports from an internist and
a psychiatrist who evaluated Mr. Jarmon at the behest of the SSA in
August 1999. The internist, Dr. Peter Biale, diagnosed Mr. Jarmon with
"bilateral mild varicosities in the right leg" and "ulcers in the medial
aspect of the leg," as well as recurrent blood clots, hypertension and
depression. Record at 266. The psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Wagner, noted
that Mr. Jarmon "was given a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder,
depressed type and dementia not otherwise specified," and that he "also
has a history of alcohol and polysubstance abuse." Record at 269. Based
upon the mental status examination he performed on Mr. Jarmon, Dr. Wagner
concluded that "it might be reasonably expected that this claimant might
have difficulty with effectively managing simple funds in their best
Additionally, on January 28, 2000, Mr. Jarmon underwent a round of
consultative examinations and evaluations for the SSA. First, he was
examined by Dr. Claude Hamilton, who "spent approximately 50 minutes with
the claimant in evaluating medical records, forms, and in formulating and
dictating this report." Record at 296. Dr. Hamilton noted Mr. Jarmon's
history of drug and alcohol abuse, psychiatric illness, blood clots and
hypertension. Record at 300. He determined that Mr. Jarmon continued to
use drugs, but was otherwise stable; he made no
findings concerning Mr. Jarmon's psychiatric illness, leaving that
assessment to the consulting psychiatrist. Id. at 300. Dr. Maria
Mynatt performed the consultative psychiatric evaluation; she reviewed
the earlier reports prepared by Dr. Wagner and Dr. Biale, and she spent
about 40 minutes with Mr. Jarmon. Record at 303. According to Dr.
Mynatt's report, Mr. Jarmon was feeling depressed at the time of
the evaluation; he reported that his sleep was poor, his appetite was
low, he was having suicidal thoughts and occasional homicidal thoughts,
as well as auditory hallucinations; he stated that his memory was
terrible, that he had difficulty concentrating, making decisions and
staying on task. Id. at 303-04. In the summary section of her
report, Dr. Mynatt focused on both Mr. Jarmon's substance abuse problems,
and his depression and concluded that his "[p]rognosis remains guarded."
Id. at 306. Under the diagnosis section, she noted polysubstance
dependence, schizoaffective disorder (currently depressed),
thrombophlebitis, recurrent blood clots, ulcers, and hypertension.
Id. She noted that he had a "[c]urrent GAF of about 45,"
id., meaning that she put him at a 45 on the Global Assessment
of Functioning Scale, a "hypothetical continuum of mental
health-illness." Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
Fourth ed. (DSM-IV), p. 32. A score of 45 indicates "[s]erious
symptoms (e.g., suicidal ideation, severe
obsessional rituals, frequent shoplifint) OR any serious
impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning (e.g., no
friends, unable to keep a job)." Id. (emphasis in original).
The record also contains an April 7, 2000 note from Dr. Zaloudek, the
same medical expert who testified before the ALJ, stating that he
"agree[s] with the PRTF and MRFC as signed by Dr. Hermsmeyer on 9-9-99
and affirmed by Dr. Tomassetti on 2-9-00." Record at 328. According to
those documents, Mr. Jarmon suffered from both schizophrenic, paranoid or
other psychotic disorder, and substance addiction disorders. Record at
307. Drs. Hermsmeyer and Tomassetti found that Mr. Jarmon's disorders
functionally limited his activities of daily living, his social
functioning, and his concentration, persistence or pace. Id. at
314. Specifically, Drs. Hermsmeyer and Tomassetti found that Mr. Jarmon
was moderately limited in his ability to understand and remember detailed
instructions, and his ability to carry out detailed instructions, but
that he had the mental capacity to perform simple tasks. Id. at
315-17. Although not specifically mentioned by Dr. Zaloudek, the record
also contains a residual functional capacity assessment prepared on
February 22, 2000 by Dr. F. Paul LaFata, who concluded that Mr. Jarmon
could lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, that he could
stand, walk and sit about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and that
his ability to push and pull was unlimited. Record at 320. Dr.
LaFata's RFC also indicates that Mr. Jarmon could occasionally climb, and
frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. Id. at 321.
The ALJ issued his decision on September 29, 2000, finding that Mr.
Jarmon retained the residual functional capacity to perform the full
range of light work and was, therefore, not disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act. Record at 22. The ALJ specifically noted
that, if he had considered Mr. Jarmon's substance abuse disorder, he
would have found Mr. Jarmon to be disabled because his addictions
prevented him from performing even a simple, unskilled job on a sustained
basis. Id. But, the ALJ concluded, because Mr. Jarmon's
addictions were contributing factors material to the finding of
disability, Public Law 104-121 precluded him from finding Mr. Jarmon to
be disabled. Id. at 21-22. On this last point, the ALJ found,
after "combing through the medical evidence," that Mr. Jarmon's
addictions were material to the residual functional capacity
determination; specifically, the ALJ determined that, "[a]lthough the
claimant has been diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder, the evidence
shows that the claimant's primary problem appears to be with substance
abuse." Id. at 19. Additionally, in assessing Mr. Jarmon's
residual functional capacity, the ALJ chose not to
credit Dr. Zaloudek's testimony from the hearing that Mr. Jarmon
was incapable of performing even a simple, unskilled job on a sustained
The ALJ's decision became the final agency decision when the Appeals
Council denied review on April 3, 2002. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
Mr. Jarmon then filed this lawsuit, seeking review of the
agency's decision and an award of benefits. The parties consented to
proceed before a magistrate judge, and the case was reassigned to this
Court on July 30, 2003. Thereafter, both parties moved for summary
A district court must affirm the ALJ's finding if it is supported by
substantial evidence and free from legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).
Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence and
consists of "such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate
to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197,
229 (1938)). The ALJ need not weigh every piece of evidence; however,
when the SSA Commissioner's "decision lacks evidentiary support or is so
poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, the case must be
remanded." Steele, 290 F.3d at 940. Generally, a court that is
Commissioner's decision may not re-weigh the evidence, re-try the
case, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995). Review is
limited to examining whether the ALJ applied the proper legal standard
and whether there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's findings.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Scivally v. Sullivan,
966 F.2d 1070, 1075 (7th Cir. 1992).
The Social Security regulations provide a five-step analysis to
determine whether a claimant is disabled: (1) the ALJ first asks whether
the claimant is currently employed; (2) if the claimant is unemployed,
then the ALJ asks whether the claimant's impairment is severe; (3) if the
impairment is severe, the ALJ determines whether the impairment meets or
equals one of the listed impairments specified in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) if the impairment meets one on the listing,
then the claimant is disabled; if it does not, then the ALJ must
determine whether the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work;
(5) if the claimant is unable to perform his past relevant work, the ALJ
must determine whether there is any work in the national economy that the
claimant can perform. See C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(f);
Maggard v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 376, 378 (7th Cir. 1999); Goodson
v. Barnhart, 217 F. Supp.2d 892, 900 (N.D. Ill. 2002). When applying
this sequential process, if the ALJ
determines at any time that the claimant is not disabled, the
analysis ends. Goodson, 217 F. Supp.2d. at 900. The claimant has
the burden of establishing a disability at steps one through four;
however, if the analysis reaches step five, then the burden shifts to the
SSA, to show that there are other jobs in the national economy that the
claimant is capable of performing.
Additionally, an ALJ must "build an accurate and logical bridge from
the evidence to [his] conclusions so that [the Court] may afford the
claimant meaningful review of the SSA's ultimate findings." Blakes ex
rel. Wolfe v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 565, 569 (7th Cir. 2002).
Therefore, not only must the record contain evidence to support the ALJ's
finding, but the ALJ must also rationally articulate the basis for his
findings. Steele, 290 F.3d at 941. Without this connection, the
district court must remand the ALJ's decision. Id.
In this case, the ALJ applied the five-step analysis outlined above,
and found initially, that Mr. Jarmon was not engaged in substantial
gainful work, as he had been unemployed since March of 1999. Record at
19. At step two, the ALJ found that Mr. Jarmon suffered from a "severe
substance abuse disorder and also suffers a severe physical impairment."
Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Mr. Jarmon's physical
and mental impairments, whether combined or alone, did not meet or equal
listed impairments. Id. At step four, the ALJ found that
Mr. Jarmon was unable to perform his past relevant work. Id. at
21. He determined, however, that Mr. Jarmon "retains the residual
functional capacity for light work activities, with standing and walking
of 6 hour [sic] in a workday and lifting 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently." Record at 20. At step five, the ALJ found that, given
his physical and mental limitations, his age and his education, Mr.
Jarmon had the residual function capacity to perform the full range of
light work. Id. at 22.
After analyzing Mr. Jarmon's case under the five step analysis required
by the regulations, the ALJ noted that, if Mr. Jarmon's substance abuse
was considered, then he would have found Mr. Jarmon to be disabled. The
ALJ concluded, however, that under 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(2)(C), which
prohibits a finding of disability when a claimant's substance abuse is a
material contributing factor, Mr. Jarmon was not disabled.
By way of background, in 1996, Congress enacted Public Law 104-121, the
"Contract With America Advancement Act of 1996." Section 105, entitled
"Denial of Disability Benefits to Drug Addicts and Alcoholics," provided
that claimants "shall not be considered to be disabled for purposes of
this title if alcoholism or drug addiction would (but for this
a contributing factor material to the Commissioner's determination
that the individual is disabled." 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(2)(C). SSA
regulations provide that the Commissioner must consider "the combined
effect of all of [the claimant's] impairments" when making a disability
determination. 20 C.F.R. § 416.923; see also Goodson v.
Barnhart, 217 F. Supp.2d 892, 902 (N.D. Ill. 2002). However, when
it is not possible to separate the mental impairment documented in the
evidence, from the drug or alcohol abuse, then "a finding of `not
material' would be appropriate." Clark v. Apfel, 98 F. Supp.2d 1182,
1185 (D.C. Ore. 2000) (quoting Social Security
Administration Emergency Teletype of DAA, August 30, 1996, Answer 29).
In Mr. Jarmon's case, the ALJ determined that Mr. Jarmon's "primary
problem" was his substance abuse disorder. Record at 19. The ALJ noted
that, if he "considered the affects of the claimant's drug and alcohol
abuse, [he] would find that [Mr. Jarmon] was unable to perform even a
simple, unskilled job on a sustained basis and that jobs did not exist in
significant numbers, in the national economy that he could perform."
Record at 21. He then applied Public Law 104-121, which prohibits
disability benefits when drug or alcohol abuse are a "material
contributing factor" to the impairments, and found that Mr. Jarmon was
not disabled. Record at 21. Fundamentally, however,
the fact that Mr. Jarmon's substance abuse was his "primary
problem" should not automatically have caused the ALJ to disregard all
of his other problems. See Goodson, 217 F. Supp.2d at
902 (stating that ALJ must look to the combined affect of all of a
claimaint's impairments). The Court does not read Public Law 104-121 to
say that, if there is a component of mental illness separate and apart
from the addiction disorders, the ALJ is required to throw the claimant
out on his head. Here, the ALJ did not adequately address Mr. Jarmon's
history of psychological problems; he merely dismissed them as being
secondary to the addiction disorders, and this is inappropriate, given
the evidence in the record suggesting that Mr. Jarmon's psychological
impairments might have existed separate and apart from his substance
abuse. See Myers v. Chater, 1997 WL 116805, *13 (N.D. Ill. 1997)
(remanding the case because the ALJ did not provide an explanation for
dismissing the claimant's mental impairment claim, which, according to
the district court, meant that the ALJ made an impermissible medical
determination). Although the ALJ is in the best position to decide the
evidence, he must still address the issues before him and adequately
explain his reasoning and determination. See Clifford v. Apfel,
227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000) (holding that the ALJ is not required
to examine every piece of evidence, but must still articulate a
legitimate reason for his decision). With one exception, the
reports documenting Mr. Jarmon's mental impairments treat the borderline
personality disorder and the schizoaffective disorder as a separate
diagnosis from the substance abuse disorders. This at least suggests that
the non-substance abuse afflictions were, to a variety of health
professionals, note-worthy in their own right.
It is true, as the ALJ noted, that Mr. Jarmon was told by his doctors
that alcohol and drug use were part of his depression. Record at 18. But
that is not necessarily the same thing as saying that the addictions were
a material contributing factor in his mental impairments. Without some
explanation, the ALJ's conclusion seems dismissive. And the ALJ's
dismissiveness with regard to the psychological evidence is reflected in
the way he viewed the record. For example, the ALJ's decision states that
"[s]ignificantly, the only mental diagnosis given was
rehabilitation for alcohol and cocaine dependence," and he cites one of
the medical assessments to support that finding. Record at 18 (emphasis
added). But the report he cites actually states that Mr. Jarmon's primary
diagnosis is Borderline Personality Disorder, and that, due to this
problem, Mr. Jarmon's "prognosis for recovery is very poor." Record at
235. Further, although the ALJ concluded that there were no other mental
concerns, he recognized that Mr. Jarmon was given other mental
health diagnoses, including dysthymia and borderline personality
disorder, approximately one year later. Record at 18. Also, although the
ALJ dismissed Mr. Jarmon's depression by noting the numerous times that
Mr. Jarmon was not experiencing suicidal or homicidal ideations, the ALJ
failed to mention the documentation showing that Mr. Jarmon had, in fact,
attempted suicide in the past, including one time when he was stopped by
the police, that he had, in fact, engaged in self-mutilating behavior,
and that he had, in fact, had thoughts of hurting his girlfriend and her
child. The ALJ never questioned whether these manifestations of Mr.
Jarmon's very real mental illness would have affected his ability to hold
down a job; instead, he noted the substance abuse and ended the matter,
without discussing how Mr. Jarmon's other mental impairments might come
into play. Because of this hole in the analysis, the Court is unable to
meaningfully review the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Mr. Jarmon was not
disabled. The case must, therefore be remanded.
Having said all of this, it is important to note that, at the end of
the day, the ALJ may well be right about Mr. Jarmon's mental impairments;
his substance abuse may very well turn out to have been a material
contributing factor in his schizoaffective disorder and borderline
personality disorder diagnoses, and that
any finding of disability would have had to have stemmed, in a
material way, from the substance abuse. But on the record before it, the
Court cannot sustain that conclusion. On remand, the ALJ must do a better
job of explaining why he believes a person with Mr. Jarmon's impairments
his physical impairments and his non-substance abuse mental
impairments is capable of performing a significant number of jobs
in the national economy. On the record as developed, that conclusion is
For the reasons set forth above, the Court finds that the ALJ's
findings at step five are not supported by substantial evidence, and that
the ALJ failed to build an accurate and logical bridge between the record
evidence and his conclusions that Mr. Jarmon's addictions were a material
contributing factor in his mental impairments, and that Mr. Jarmon was
capable of performing other jobs in the national economy. The Court,
therefore, grants Mr. Jarmon's Motion for Summary Judgment, and denies
the Commissioner's. The Court remands the case to the Commissioner for
further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.
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