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PARHAM v. CHATER

April 29, 1997

James R. Parham, Plaintiff
v.
Shirley Chater, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant


JUNE L. GREEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance regarding Defendant's eligibility for Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.

 BACKGROUND

 On April 6, 1992, Plaintiff James R. Parham filed an application for SSI benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1381-1383(d) (1997). Plaintiff had his first administrative hearing on August 18, 1993, before the Honorable Paul F. Sullivan, an Administrative Law Judge. Judge Sullivan denied Plaintiff's claim for SSI benefits. On September 14, 1995, Honorable John W. Taggart, an Administrative Law Judge, denied Plaintiff's claim for SSI benefits following Plaintiff's second administrative hearing. Both judges ruled that Plaintiff has a "severe impairment" within the meaning of 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(C) (1996), but that the evidence did not demonstrate that the claimant's impairments, considered either individually or in combination, are of a severity to meet or equal any of the impairments listed in the Listing of Impairments at Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulation Number 404 (20 C.F.R. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (1996)). On June 12, 1996, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, and Plaintiff now seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (1996), of the Secretary of Health and Human Services's decision denying his claim for disability benefits.

 FACTS

 The following facts are not in dispute: Plaintiff is a 44-year-old man with an eighth grade education. (See R. 83, 85, 109, 134.) He has a vocational background as a window cleaner, a sanitation worker and a food service worker. (See R. 85-6, 124-5, 134.) Plaintiff last worked at a McDonald's restaurant as a food service worker from 1990 until 1991, and is currently unemployed. (See R. 85-6.)

 The Plaintiff alleges disability beginning in February 1990 due to: 1) an on-the-job accident occurring in 1979 in which he sustained fractures of the pelvis and hip and injuries to his spine, (see R. 87, 109, 141); 2) an epigastric hernia, (see R. 129); and 3) persistent problems with alcohol and drug dependency. (See R. 141.) Plaintiff's medical history reveals that in June 1987 he was treated for a compound jaw fracture and for alcohol abuse. (See R. 180, 331.) In January of 1992, Plaintiff sought inpatient treatment at the Veterans Administration ("VA") Medical Center for crack cocaine abuse, at which time he was advised to attend Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. (See R. 177, 178.)

 On April 14, 1992, Plaintiff sought treatment at the VA Medical Center for lower back and foot pain which he attributed to a 1979 motor vehicle accident. (See R. 173.) X-rays of Plaintiff's feet appeared normal. (See R. 185.) The attending physician diagnosed Plaintiff as having status-post trauma and degenerative joint-disease, and prescribed Motrin, bed rest, use of a heating pad, and a decrease in activities. (See R. 174.)

 On April 22, 1992, Plaintiff was diagnosed at the VA Medical Center with an epigastric hernia. ( See R. 174.) On May 5, 1992, Plaintiff underwent surgery for the hernia and tolerated the procedure well. (See R. 158, 244.) He was discharged on May 9, 1992. (See R. 158.)

 Immediately prior to that surgery, on April 27, 1992, Plaintiff reported in a Vocational Report that he had suffered from arthritis for ten years and that his condition had deteriorated in recent months. (See R. 329-30.) Plaintiff noted no relief from Motrin. (Id.) Plaintiff also complained of pain in his fingers and wrists. (See R. 330.) He underwent an examination which indicated generalized tenderness over both feet and no gross deformities. (See R. 329-30.) The examination revealed Plaintiff's full range of motion of both hands, wrists, ankles and feet. (See R. 330.) Additionally, the physician noted that the x-rays taken on April 14, 1992 had been normal. (Id.) The provisional diagnosis ruled out generalized arthropathy. (See R. 329-30.) Motrin was discontinued and the physician prescribed Naprosyn. (See R. 330.)

 On May 18, 1992, Plaintiff related in a Vocational Report that since his illness (the hernia) began, "he could not stand too much, pull or lift anything." (See R. 129.)

 On June 23, 1992, Plaintiff underwent a psychiatric evaluation performed by Giuseppe Scarcella, M.D. (See R. 183-197.) Dr. Scarcella recorded that Plaintiff attempted to cooperate during the interview, but noted that questions had to be repeated and Plaintiff often appeared perplexed and uncertain about the answer to give. (See R. 183.) Dr. Scarcella believed Plaintiff's account of his history to be only partially reliable because of omissions, contradictions, and evidence of memory impairment. (See R. 183.) Plaintiff reported that he continued to use alcohol and drugs. (Id.) He claimed that his drinking had decreased in frequency (consuming one pint of liquor "not every day"), and that he used cocaine instead of heroin. (Id.) Plaintiff related that he was supported by family members and did very little during the day. (Id.) He reported that he attended group therapy sessions at the Veterans' Administration hospital for alcohol and drug use, but that he was receiving no medication. (See R. 184.)

 Dr. Scarcella found the claimant's mood to be fairly depressed and stated that he appeared to be a "somewhat distant, absent, and perplexed individual." (Id.) Plaintiff indicated that he heard voices calling his name and he occasionally spoke back to them. (Id.) Dr. Scarcella found that Plaintiff could not perform simple calculations, but that his interpretation of proverbs was complete. (Id.) Dr. Scarcella considered Plaintiff's judgment to be impaired, but found no evidence of process impairment and no delusional ideation. (Id.) Dr. Scarcella's diagnosis of Plaintiff recognized Plaintiff's alcohol dependence associated with cocaine abuse and past history of opiate dependence (which was in remission at the time of the examination). (See R. 184.) Dr. Scarcella noted that the Plaintiff's inclination to abuse alcohol and drugs would render him incompetent to handle funds. (Id.)

 Dr. Willie Thompson, M.D., performed an orthopedic examination of Plaintiff on July 1, 1992. (See R. 203-5.) The Plaintiff reported a 14-year history of low back pain, but no pain in the lower extremities and no numbness, tingling, paresthesias, or weakness. (See R. 203.) Dr. Thompson noted that the Plaintiff had a full range of motion of the cervical spine and the upper extremities, without evidence of muscle wasting or atrophy. (See R. 204.) X-rays of Plaintiff's lumbosacral spine appeared normal. (Id.) Dr. Thompson reported that there was no medical evidence of "ratable" physical impairment in accordance with American Medical Association Guidelines. (See R. 205.) He concluded that the Plaintiff was capable of performing most all routine work activities of daily living without limitations. (Id.)

 DISCUSSION

 Standard of review

 The Court has jurisdiction over the final judgments rendered in cases arising under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (1997). In reviewing the administrative record, the Court does not try de novo the factual issues involved, but instead must affirm the Secretary's decision if it is supported by "substantial evidence" in the record and is not tainted by an error of law. See Brown v. Bowen, 253 U.S. App. D.C. 409, 794 F.2d 703, 705 (1986); Smith v. Bowen, 264 U.S. App. D.C. 104, 826 F.2d 1120, 1121 (D.C. Cir. 1987); see also Di Benedetto v. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, 518 F. Supp. 786 (1981). In essence, the Court must not reweigh evidence, and is limited to determining whether the administrative decision rests upon substantial evidence. See Di Benedetto, 518 F. Supp. at 787.

 The Social Security Act ("Act") requires the Social Security Administration to give benefits to those "disabled" within the definition of the act. "Disability" is defined in the Act as an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) (1997). There is a sequential five-step process for determining whether an individual has a disability covered under the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 ...


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