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Barnes v. Astrue

April 1, 2010

EDITH BARNES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Bernthal U.S. Magistrate Judge

ORDER

In June 2007, Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter "ALJ") John Wood denied Plaintiff Edith Barnes' application for disability insurance benefits on behalf of her son, David Barnes. ALJ Wood based his decision on a finding that Mr. Barnes was not disabled as of his date last insured because, independent of his alcohol abuse, he would have been able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

In December 2008, Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a Complaint (#5) against Defendant Michael Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision to deny social security benefits. In May 2009, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (#18). In August 2009, Defendant filed a Motion for an Order Which Affirms the Commissioner's Decision (#22). After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, this Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (#18).

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

In September 2005, claimant David Barnes filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2004, the date he was last insured. In September 2006, an ALJ denied his application based on late filing of the request for hearing. In December 2006, the Appeals Council found good cause for the late filing, vacated the ALJ's dismissal, and remanded the case to ALJ Wood for further proceedings. Following Mr. Barnes' death in February 2007, Plaintiff Edith Barnes assumed his claim. In April 2007, the ALJ held a supplemental hearing pursuant to Appeals Council remand, at which Mr. Barnes' mother and sister testified. A vocational expert also testified. An attorney represented Plaintiff at the hearing.

In June 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits, based on a finding that the claimant was not disabled at any time through his date last insured. In October 2008, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. In December 2008, Plaintiff appealed this decision by filing a complaint with this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff seeks a reversal of the decision.

The parties have consented to the exercise of federal jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge.

B. Factual Background

The claimant alleged disability based on hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, skin itching, cognitive problems, and memory loss. The ALJ found that he had severe impairments including status-post carpal tunnel surgery of his right hand, depression, anxiety, and alcohol dependence. The ALJ found that the claimant's hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, and skin itching were not severe impairments.

In assessing the claimant's mental condition, the ALJ noted that alcohol dependence was his primary impairment and stated that Plaintiff satisfied Listing 12.09, Substance Addiction Disorders. That Listing provides that the required level of severity for substance addiction disorders is met when the claimant meets the requirements of certain other listings, including 12.02, 12.04, 12.06, 12.08, 11.14, 5.05, 5.04, 5.08, 11.02, or 11.03. The ALJ concluded that, independent of the alcohol abuse, the record fails to establish an impairment or combination of impairments that is medically equivalent to one of these required Listings.

Regarding the claimant's mental condition, the ALJ stated that the record shows evidence of depression and anxiety, independent of the claimant's alcohol dependence. The ALJ gave significant weight to the opinions of Dr. Frances Schoon, who stated that Plaintiff's cognitive delays were directly related to his alcohol consumption. Based on the results of an April 2005 neuropsychological evaluation, Dr. Schoon opined that the claimant's mental functioning was likely to improve if he were to stop abusing alcohol. Relying on this opinion and the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that the longitudinal medical record did not establish that the claimant's depression and/or anxiety constituted disabling conditions.

The ALJ determined that the claimant had the residual functional capacity (hereinafter "RFC") to perform simple and repetitive medium work, with frequent handling, fingering, and feeling with the right upper extremity, and occasional interaction with the public, co-workers, and supervisors. As a result, the ALJ found that the claimant could not perform his past relevant work as an instrument mechanic. Based on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ then found that the claimant could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

Regarding the evidence of deterioration in the claimant's condition between December 2004 and his death in February 2007, the ALJ stated that, in order to qualify for benefits, an individual must establish a disabling impairment on his date last insured, and in this case, the record shows that the claimant was mentally capable ...


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