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McGee v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

December 23, 2014

SHELDON P. McGEE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

BRIAN A. TSUCHIDA, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Sheldon P. McGee's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits was denied because the ALJ concluded that alcoholism is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability. Dkt. 13. Appealing this decision, Mr. McGee contends that the ALJ harmfully misevaluated the following: (1) Mr. McGee's credibility; (2) the medical opinions of treating psychiatrist James Basinski, M.D.; (3) the opinions of counselor Ashley Proto, M.S.W., M.H.P.; and (4) the opinions of chemical-dependency counselor Robert Young. Id. at 1. The Court finds that the ALJ mishandled the legal analysis of alcoholism and failed to support with substantial evidence the decision to reject detailed, relevant medical and other testimony about the severity of Mr. McGee's mental and cognitive impairments while sober. The Court therefore recommends REVERSING and REMANDING for further administrative proceedings.

BACKGROUND

Mr. McGee is 48 years old, attended ninth grade, did not receive a GED, and worked sporadically for months at a time as a carpenter (most recently in 2004). Tr. 64-85. On March 15, 2011, he applied for benefits, alleging disability as of September 1, 2009. Tr. 63, 71. His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 64-85. The ALJ conducted a hearing on September 20, 2012, finding Mr. McGee's alcoholism was a factor material to the determination of disability because he would not be disabled if he stopped abusing alcohol. Tr. 10-22. As the Appeals Council denied Mr. McGee's request for review, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision. Tr. 1-6.

THE ALJ'S DECISION

Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [1] the ALJ found:

Step one: Mr. McGee had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date of March 15, 2011.
Step two: Mr. McGee has the following severe impairments: depression, anxiety, and alcohol dependence.
Step three: These impairments, including alcohol dependence, met the listings for "affective disorders" (12.04), "anxiety-related disorders" (12.06), and "substance addiction disorders" (12.09).[2] With Mr. McGee's drug addiction/alcoholism taken into account-Social Security regulations require that an assessment be made of the applicant's impairments absent the substance abuse [3]-his remaining impairments would be severe but not equivalent to a listed impairment.
Residual Functional Capacity: Absent substance abuse, Mr. McGee has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations. He can understand, remember, and carry out short and simple tasks. He can have occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors. He should not work with the general public. He needs a routine and predictable work environment.
Step four: Absent substance abuse, Mr. McGee could not perform past relevant work.
Step five: Absent substance abuse, when Mr. McGee's age, education, [4] work experience, and RFC are considered, he could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. He is therefore not disabled.

Tr. 10-22.

DISCUSSION

There is no dispute that Mr. McGee has a severe alcohol dependency. He began drinking as a 7-year old after the murder of his father, may have been an alcoholic by the age of 13, and has been in-and-out of jail, homelessness, and inpatient substance-abuse treatment for years. Tr. 50, Tr. 435-436. Similarly, the parties do not dispute that Mr. McGee's suffers from the severe impairments of depression and anxiety disorder. Dkt. 436. The parties' conflict arises from the ALJ's conclusion that Mr. McGee is not disabled because alcoholism is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability. Tr. 22. Mr. McGee contends that the ALJ erroneously discounted (1) Mr. McGee's credibility; (2) the medical opinions of treating psychiatrist Dr. Basinski; (3) the opinions of counselor Ms. Proto; (4) and the opinions of chemical-dependency counselor Mr. Young. According to Mr. McGee, these errors were harmful ...


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