Sarner v. Astrue
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER denying 22 Motion to Dismiss. Because the Court is concerned that the Commissioner did not properly determine that Plaintiff's drug or alcohol abuse was a contributing factor material to his disability prior to March 1 , 2005, this case is hereby remanded for a fuller explanation of the Commissioner's rationale. The Commissioner's motion (Docket Entry 22) is DENIED, and the Clerk of the Court is directed to mail Plaintiff a copy of this decision and to mark this matter CLOSED. So Ordered by Judge Joanna Seybert on 5/22/12. C/M; C/ECF (Valle, Christine)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of
Philip Sarner, pro se
290 South Ocean Avenue
Freeport, New York 11520
Michelle L. Christ, Esq.
United States Attorney's Office
Eastern District Of New York
271 Cadman Plaza East, 7th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11201
SEYBERT, District Judge:
Pro se Plaintiff Philip Sarner appeals the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying
Benefits and Social Security Income Benefits.
(See R. 11.)
following reasons, the Commissioner’s motion is DENIED, and this
case is remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration
consistent with the discussion below.
attention deficit disorder rendered him disabled beginning on
that Plaintiff was disabled as of March 1, 2005 but was not
entitled to benefits for the period before that date.
independent of Plaintiff’s history of drug and alcohol abuse
and, accordingly, Plaintiff was ineligible for benefits during
In relevant part, the ALJ’s decision reads as follows:
treatment for and symptomatology associated
with a depressive disorder and attention
However, until March 1,
various hospitalizations and treatments, is
specifically, when hospitalized on May 21,
2004, cocaine/alcohol/and marijuana abuse
In addition, treatment notes
from the Nassau County Corrections Center,
spanning the period of May 2004 through June
2006, cite a diagnosis of cocaine abuse.
The claimant was also hospitalized at Good
Samaritan Hospital on February 18, 2005, for
an overdose of pills.
However, since said
time, the claimant has consistently been
clean and sober.
The claimant is currently under the care of
Dr. A. Nagra.
In a recent questionnaire
dated October 4, 2006, the doctor furnished
diagnoses of a mood disorder and attention
In an addendum thereto,
he stated that the claimant has been clean
Pertinent clinical findings included mood
Functionally, Dr. Nagra
noted serious restrictions regarding the
claimant’s ability to be employed.
The Administrative Law Judge finds, based
upon all of the evidence of record, that the
depressive disorder and attention deficit
disorder, which in and of themselves, prior
understanding, remembering and carrying out
appropriately to co-workers, supervisors and
customary work pressures in a work setting.
It was only when the claimant’s substance
abuse was added to the mix that it could be
said that the claimant was so impaired as to
be unable to work. In fact, prior to March
1, 2005, the claimant’s substance abuse was
patently material to a finding of disability
and inexorably interwoven with his other
impairments. Accordingly, prior to March 1,
benefits pursuant to Public Law 104-121.
However, as of March 1, 2005, the record
reflects that the claimant has been clean
Moreover, despite same, his
independent of substance abuse, and have
eroded his ability to understand, remember
and carry out work instructions as well as
respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers and customary work pressures in a
As such, the claimant is
entitled to benefits beginning on March 1,
(R. 12-13 (citations omitted).)
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred because he (1)
Plaintiff had a history of attempting to hurt himself (id.); (3)
overlooked evidence that Plaintiff spent considerable time in
alcohol or drugs during the relevant timeframe (id. at 2); and
testimony (see id. at 3).
In accordance with the following
explanation of the Commissioner’s decision.
I. Legal Standard
In reviewing the ruling of the ALJ, this Court will
not determine de novo whether Plaintiff is in fact disabled.
Thus, even if the Court may have reached a different decision,
it must not substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ.
See Jones v. Sullivan, 949 F.2d 57, 59 (2d Cir. 1991) (internal
Instead, this Court must determine whether
the ALJ’s findings are supported by “substantial evidence in the
record as a whole or are based on an erroneous legal standard.”
Curry v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 117, 122 (2d Cir. 2000) superseded by
“Substantial evidence is such evidence that a
The substantial evidence test applies not
only to the ALJ’s findings of fact, but also to any inferences
and conclusions of law drawn from such facts.
To determine if substantial evidence exists to support
the ALJ’s findings, this Court must examine the entire record,
including any conflicting evidence and any evidence from which
findings are supported by substantial evidence.
See Gonzalez v.
Barnhart, No. 01-CV-7449, 2003 WL 21204448, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. May
21, 2003) (internal quotations omitted).
“The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”
42 U.S.C. §
Where an ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial
evidence, however, or where the Court is “‘unable to fathom the
decision,’ remand is appropriate.”
Hernandez v. Astrue, 814 F.
Supp. 2d 168, 184 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (quoting Pratts v. Chater, 94
F.3d 34, 39 (2d Cir. 1996)).
II. A Clearer Explanation is Required
explanation of the ALJ’s rationale.
Drug and alcohol abuse can,
in certain cases, disqualify an applicant from receiving social
See Veino v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 580 (2d
The Commissioner may not award benefits if alcohol
or drug addiction is “a contributing factor material to the
Commissioner’s determination that the individual is disabled.”
Id. (quoting U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(C)).
“In determining whether
alcohol or substance abuse is material to the determination of
disability, the key factor is whether the Commissioner would
alcohol or substance.”
Hernandez, 814 F. Supp. 2d at 181.
other words, alcohol or drug abuse only precludes an award of
benefits where the abuse is a “but for” cause of the applicant’s
In Plaintiff’s case, it is not clear that the ALJ
properly determined that Plaintiff’s substance abuse was a but
for cause of his disability.
In concluding that Plaintiff was
“impairments have continued to exist, independent of substance
implied that the same impairments did not suffice to render
Plaintiff disabled when they were combined with his drug and
Plaintiff’s impairments were disabling when he was sober, then
the same impairments ought to have been disabling during the
time when he was abusing drugs and alcohol.
The Commissioner argues that the different outcomes
are justified because Plaintiff’s impairments worsened from the
period during which he was abusing drugs and alcohol to the
post-March 2005 period during which he was clean.
That may be correct, and it may be what the ALJ meant when
“eroded” Plaintiff’s ability “to understand, remember and carry
Plaintiff’s impairments “continued” after Plaintiff became sober
(R. 13-14 (emphasis added).)
These phrases suggest
remained somewhat constant from when he was abusing drugs and
prior to March 1, 2005.
For example, in a July 3, 2003 report,
Dr. Judith Shaw concluded that although Plaintiff’s “trend of
thought was coherent” (R. 154), he had “borderline intellectual
functioning” and his “insight appeared to be fair to poor” (R.
Because the Court is concerned that the Commissioner
abuse was a contributing factor material to his disability prior
to March 1, 2005, this case is hereby remanded for a fuller
explanation of the Commissioner’s rationale.
motion (Docket Entry 22) is DENIED, and the Clerk of the Court
is directed to mail Plaintiff a copy of this decision and to
mark this matter CLOSED.
/s/ JOANNA SEYBERT______
Joanna Seybert, U.S.D.J.
22 , 2012
Central Islip, New York
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