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Pappas v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division

February 25, 2015

NICK J. PAPPAS
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

JOHN S. BRYANT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

This is a civil action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Social Security Administration (“SSA” or “the Administration”) denying plaintiff’s applications for disability insurance benefits and disabled widower’s benefits, as provided under Title II of the Social Security Act. The case is currently pending on plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 13), to which defendant has responded (Docket Entry No. 17). Plaintiff has further filed a reply brief (Docket Entry No. 18) and defendant has filed a sur-reply (Docket Entry No. 21). Upon consideration of these papers and the transcript of the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 11), [1] and for the reasons given below, the undersigned recommends that plaintiff’s motion for judgment be DENIED and that the decision of the SSA be AFFIRMED.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff filed his claim to benefits on May 6, 2010, alleging that he became disabled on February 28, 2008, as a result of lower back problems, high blood pressure, heart problems, thyroid problems, and a nerve condition in his hand and chest. (Tr. 204) His claim was denied at the initial and reconsideration stages of state agency review, whereupon plaintiff filed a request for de novo hearing and decision by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). An administrative hearing was held on May 3, 2012, at which plaintiff appeared with counsel. (Tr. 44-108) Plaintiff testified, as did an impartial vocational expert. At the conclusion of the hearing, the ALJ closed the record and took the matter under advisement, until June 6, 2012, when he issued a written decision in which plaintiff was found to be not disabled. (Tr. 21-43) That decision contains the following enumerated findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2009.
2. It was previously found that the claimant is the unmarried widower of the deceased insured worker and has attained the age of 50. The claimant met the non-disability requirements for disabled widower’s benefits set forth in section 202(g) of the Social Security Act.
3. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 28, 2008, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
4. The claimant has the following severe impairments: Alcoholism; Adjustment Disorder, status post bereavement; Personality Disorder, not otherwise specified; Polysubstance Dependence, in sustained full remission (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
5. Notwithstanding the claimant’s alcohol use, he does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d)).
6. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that, based on all of the impairments, including the substance use disorders, the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: He is unable to sustain concentration and persistence for a minimum of two hours at a time, even for simple and unskilled work, nor is he able to reliably make simple work-related judgments or decisions. Moreover, he would be reasonably expected to take unscheduled breaks and/or be absent from work secondary to his symptoms of mental functioning, as exacerbated through his alcohol use. As a result, he would be mentally unable to sustain an eight-hour work day on a regular and continuing basis.
7. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
8. The claimant was born on September 21, 1956 and was 51 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563).
9. The claimant has at least a high school education or its equivalent and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
10. The claimant’s acquired job skills do not transfer to other occupations within the residual functional capacity defined above (20 CFR 404.1568).
11. Considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity based on all of the impairments, including the substance use disorders, there are no jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1560(c) and 404.1566).
12. If the claimant stopped the substance use, the remaining limitations would cause more than a minimal impact on the claimant’s ability to perform basic work activities; therefore, the claimant would continue to have a severe impairment or combination of impairments.
13. If the claimant stopped the substance use, the claimant would not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d)).
14. If the claimant stopped the substance use, the claimant would have the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: He would only be able to understand, remember, and carry out simple and detailed instructions of one to four steps, but is able to maintain concentration, persistence and pace for two hours at a time, with normal breaks, in performing tasks which meet these parameters.
15. If the claimant stopped the substance use, the claimant would continue to be unable to perform past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
16. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
17. If the claimant stopped the substance use, considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there would be a significant number of jobs in the national economy that the claimant could perform (20 CFR 404.1560(c) and 404.1566).
18. The substance use disorder is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability because the claimant would not be disabled if he stopped the substance use (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 404.1535). Because the substance use disorder is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability, the claimant has not been disabled within the meaning of ...

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