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WOLF v. SECRETARY OF HHS

June 27, 1985

DONALD WOLF, Plaintiff,
v.
SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CURTIN

Plaintiff Donald Wolf worked as a truck driver for 21 years until he stopped working in October of 1971. He has not been employed since that time. Plaintiff has an eighth-grade education and was 54 years old at the time of the hearing.

Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on October 16, 1974. That application was granted for a period of disability beginning in September of 1974. Plaintiff's benefits were later terminated by the Secretary as of January of 1982, at which time he was said to have recovered from his disability caused by cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, and chronic alcoholism. The date of the Secretary's decision terminating plaintiff's benefits was September 27, 1982. There is no evidence that plaintiff ever appealed the decision beyond the Appeals Council, which declined to review it. Instead, plaintiff made the instant application on January 28, 1983. He also applied for supplemental security income benefits on that date.

 The decision of the Secretary that plaintiff was no longer disabled from January of 1982 through September 27, 1982, is res judicata. The decision of this court applies only to plaintiff's condition after September 27, 1982.

 With regard to plaintiff's most recent application, the Administrative Law Judge [ALJ] found on September 30, 1983, that plaintiff had not been engaged in substantial activity since October of 1971. He found that plaintiff was not suffering from an Appendix 1 impairment but that plaintiff could not resume his former work. However, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to do light work and was not disabled under Appendix 2, Rule 202.11, Subpart P, 20 C.F.R. § 404.

 The sole issue raised by plaintiff on this appeal is the failure of the ALJ to determine whether plaintiff is addicted to alcohol and whether he can control its use.

 From the record, it is apparent that plaintiff is an alcoholic. Both doctors so diagnosed him (Tr., pp.260, 319, 333, 350). Alcoholism in and of itself, however, is not necessarily disabling. Under the Social Security Administration regulations, an addiction to alcohol or drugs does not automatically indicate a finding of disability:

 (e) Addiction to alcohol or drugs. If you have a condition diagnosed as addiction to alcohol or drugs, this will not, by itself, be a basis for determing whether you are, or are not, disabled. As with any other medical condition, we will decide whether you are disabled based on symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings.

 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525(e).

 Addiction to alcohol can, in certain circumstances, be of such severity as to meet the listings of Appendix 1. See 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, § 12.04. The requirements of section 12.04 are quite specific and are not met by the evidence in this record. Although the ALJ did not elaborate on his finding that plaintiff had no Appendix 1 impairment, this finding is supported by substantial evidence. Even when an addiction to alcohol does not meet the listings of Appendix 1, it can still be disabling if it, alone or combined with other causes, prevents a person from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Ferguson v. Schweiker, 641 F.2d 243, 248 (5th Cir. 1981).

 Physical damage caused by prior alcohol abuse can be so severe as to be disabling under the Act. Singletary v. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, 623 F.2d 217, 220 (2d Cir. 1980). Serious alcohol-induced personality disorders, as described in Appendix 1, can be disabling. Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982). Other alcohol-related mental impairments, even if they do not equal an Appendix 1 impairment, can be disabling if they preclude gainful activity.

 Once a person is found to have an alcohol-related condition which prevents him from engaging in substantial gainful activity, he cannot be denied benefits simply because he continues to drink. Adams v. Weinberger, 548 F.2d 239, 242-43 (8th Cir. 1977). "[E]mphasis should be placed on whether the claimant is addicted to alcohol and as a consequence has lost the voluntary ability to control its use." Id. at 244.

 When a person is found to have a disability related to alcohol abuse, the ALJ must go a step further:

 [I]f there is a continuing interrelationship between the excess consumption of alcohol and the disability, such that termination of the former will end the latter, the issue for the Secretary is whether the claimant ...


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