This is a social security case in which the Court must determine whether the decision of the Secretary to deny plaintiff's claim of disability benefits is supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971).
The Secretary's decision in this case that plaintiff is not so mentally impaired as to prevent him from engaging in work-related activities is plainly not supported by substantial evidence.
plaintiff is disabled.
It is unlikely that the Secretary would conclude that a long-term hospital patient with a chronic physical ailment is able to perform "work-related activities;"
a different standard cannot be employed, in this day and age, for persons forced to remain in a hospital for mental reasons.
For the reasons stated, there is no "substantial evidence" to support the ALJ's findings, and reversal is required on that basis alone. Lewis v. Weinberger, 541 F.2d 417, 421 (4th Cir. 1976).
Second. All the medical witnesses testified that plaintiff will require continued hospitalization because of his mental condition and his continued dangerousness to others. Thus, Dr. Daniel Sweeney stated that plaintiff "appears physically able to work as evidenced by his employment prior to coming to the hospital. He is, however, in need of further hospitalization as a result of his potential dangerousness to others." Record at 128. Dr. Paul J. Peckar similarly found that plaintiff remained mentally ill and dangerous as a result of mental illness, and he further stated that
With regards to Mr. Graves' capacity to engage in work it is my opinion together with that of the treatment team that Mr. Graves is severely disabled from working because of his extreme explosive rage and the repressed anger that lies behind it. It will be sometime before Mr. Graves is ready to return to the work force, but his treatment is progressing although ever so slowly.
Record at 2B. And Dr. E. O. Hume checked off a box on a form indicating that plaintiff was not capable of engaging in competitive employment, but then went on to state "Capable, but is currently hospitalized on a locked ward having been found not guilty by reason of insanity."
Record at 123.
This is not a case where the ALJ had to weigh conflicting medical testimony.
Instead, it is a case where it is the unanimous medical opinion
that plaintiff's mental illness requires his hospitalization in a secure ward because otherwise his inability to control his rage, caused by mental illness, makes him a danger to the community. In such circumstances, the ALJ had the duty, as a matter of law, not to disregard the opinions of the medical experts -- a duty which he failed to fulfill.
Moreover, the medical opinions are fully supported by the objective facts. There is, in the first place, plaintiff's court-ordered confinement in a mental hospital.
Beyond that, there is uncontradicted evidence that plaintiff has a long history of bizarre behavior, which includes the cutting off of heads of chickens and drinking their blood; enjoying pain; being able to spit up blood at will; and inability to control his rages, particularly in relation to women.
At St. Elizabeth's itself, plaintiff has become abusive at women; "threw chairs and punched the wall" in his anger at a woman therapist; on one occasion he went into an extreme rage over a trivial matter; and on another he attacked another patient in a rage which would have resulted in murder had plaintiff not be restrained by the staff.
It is this individual whom the ALJ found to have no "impairments which significantly limit his ability to perform basic work-related activities." Record at 16. This finding was patently erroneous.
Third. Most basically, the Act directs the ALJ and hence of the Secretary to determine whether a claimant should be expected to earn his living in the work force or whether he is so disabled, physically or mentally, that he cannot do so and should for that reason be granted disability benefits.
It surpasses understanding how the ALJ could conclude that this plaintiff could earn his living in the work force when he cannot even join that work force on account of a disability which keeps him confined in a hospital and is likely to keep him there for a long period of time.
The Secretary also argues that plaintiff is foreclosed from obtaining disability benefits because of an amendment to the Social Security Act approved in 1980.
Section 339 of Public Law 96-21, approved October 20, 1983, added section 42 U.S.C. § 402(x)(1) to the Act, which provides, with exceptions not here relevant, that ". . . no monthly benefits shall be paid . . . under section 423 of this title to any individual for any month during which such individual is confined in a jail, prison, or other penal institution or correctional facility, pursuant to his conviction of . . . a felony. . . ." Assuming that this provision can pass constitutional muster,
it does not help the Secretary here, for two reasons.
First. The statute becomes operative only where there is a conviction of a felony; plaintiff was not convicted of a felony or any other offense; he was acquitted, albeit by reason of insanity. No tribunal has ever held, insofar as this Court is aware, that an acquittal by reason of insanity is a conviction for any purpose,
and the Secretary has furnished no indicia of legislative intent to the Court which would support so unusual a construction.
Second. Plaintiff is not confined in a "jail, prison, or other penal institution or correctional facility;" he is confined in a mental hospital. Here again, the government has produced no evidence that Congress intended to equate a mental hospital with a jail, prison, or other penal or correctional institution.
In short, the Secretary's reliance on the 1980 amendment is totally devoid of substance.
For the reasons stated, the decision of the Secretary will be reversed.
In accordance with a Memorandum issued this 25th day of April, 1985, it is
ORDERED that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be and it is hereby granted; and it is further
ORDERED that defendant's motion for affirmance be and it is hereby denied; and it is further
ORDERED that the Secretary's determination be and it is hereby reversed, and the Secretary is directed to award disability benefits to plaintiff.