GOLDBERG, Circuit Judge:
Our nation's courts are required to play a limited role in reviewing the disposition of social security benefits claims. We are not to meddle in the fact-findings of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Appellant Samuel Ferguson ("Ferguson" or "Appellant") applied for social security disability benefits in 1977, but his request was denied by the Social Security Administration. Record at 72-94. A hearing was then held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on his claim. The ALJ found that while Ferguson could no longer engage in "strenuous physical activity," he retained the "capacity for light to moderate physical activity on a sustained basis," id. at 21, and was therefore not disabled within the language of the statute. 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 423(d), 1382c(a) (West 1974); see infra pages 246-247. The Appeals Council summarily affirmed the ALJ's decision, Record at 3, and pursuant to Social Security Act § 205(g), 42 U.S.C.A. § 405(g) (West 1974), Ferguson sought judicial review of what was then "a final decision of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare." Record at 170. The district court granted summary judgment for the Secretary based on the conclusion "that there was substantial evidence" to support the ALJ's finding of no disability. Ferguson appeals from the judgment of the district court.
II. PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE ALJ
After considering Ferguson's own testimony and various medical reports, the ALJ concluded that Ferguson was impaired by "(1) alcoholism, [and] (2) hypertensive vascular disease, class II." Id. at 20. As to the former, the ALJ found that since appellant "has the ability to stop drinking," the impairment was "remediable." Id. As to the latter, the ALJ found that the heart defect "results in only slight limitation of physical activity," and could be controlled with medication. Id. at 21. The ALJ reasoned that since Ferguson could perform light or moderate physical activity, he could "work as a custodian or janitor," and the ALJ then took administrative notice that such jobs existed "in the national economy" and "in the area in which the claimant resides." Id. Taking into account appellant's age, experience and education, the ALJ concluded that Ferguson was not disabled within the meaning of the statute and was therefore not entitled to the requested benefits.
III. BURDEN OF PROOF AND FINDINGS BELOW
It is clear that a claimant seeking social security benefits bears the brunt of the burden of proof on the disability question.
A. Vocational Expert
In the case at bar, the ALJ found that appellant had met his burden of showing that he was unable to perform his former job, but that other work existed in the national economy which Ferguson could perform. The ALJ relied on medical testimony in finding that Ferguson could do light to moderate work, and took administrative notice of the fact that jobs requiring light to moderate work existed in the national economy. The ALJ cited work "as a custodian or janitor in any public or private building" as an example of this kind of job. Record at 21. No vocational expert testified as to the types of light to moderate physical activities required of janitors or similar workers. Moreover, no evidence was introduced as to whether Ferguson would be able to perform the activities of a janitor given his physical condition. The ALJ's conclusion rested only on evidence that appellant could perform light to moderate activity and on judicial notice that jobs requiring light to moderate activity existed in the national economy.
It is clear that in the case at bar there was ample evidence to support the ALJ's finding that Ferguson could do light work, see, e. g., id. at 151, and it is equally clear that the ALJ was entitled to take administrative notice of the fact that light work exists in the national economy, see Brown v. Finch, 429 F.2d 80 (5th Cir. 1970); Breaux v. Finch, 421 F.2d 687 (5th Cir. 1970) (per curiam); Floyd v. Finch, 441 F.2d 73 (6th Cir. 1971). However, the uncontradicted medical evidence indicated that the types of light to moderate work which Ferguson could perform were limited, see Record at 151, and it was unclear whether jobs requiring only the types of light to moderate work which appellant could perform existed in the national economy. Indeed, the ALJ's finding that Ferguson could be a janitor or custodian seems puzzling in light of the doctor's unrefuted conclusion that Ferguson could not perform "pushing/pulling movements," "climbing (stairs or ladders) and balancing," and "reaching (overhead)."
The burden of showing by substantial evidence that a person who can no longer perform his former job can engage in other substantial gainful activity is in almost all cases satisfied only through the use of vocational expert testimony. While in exceptional cases testimony by a vocational expert may not be necessary to satisfy the Secretary's burden of proving that a prima facie disabled claimant can do other work available in the national economy,
In the case at bar, it is clear that appellant could perform only a limited scope of light to moderate physical activities. Hence, it was incumbent upon the ALJ to consider expert testimony as to whether a person of appellant's age, experience, education and impairments
It is well-settled that alcoholism, alone or combined with other causes, can constitute a disability if it prevents a claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity.
In the case at bar the ALJ found that Ferguson suffered from alcoholism. Record at 20. However, the ALJ went on to find that appellant "has the ability to stop drinking, having done so once, and should stop again." Id. Since no medical evidence was presented that Ferguson could control his alcoholism, the finding of remediability was presumably based (1) on the fact that appellant underwent detoxification treatments at East Mississippi State Hospital in January, 1977, see id. at 114, and (2) on appellant's own testimony that he once quit drinking and now only drinks "once in a while," see id. at 49-50. We find this evidence to be of little value in determining whether appellant can now control his drinking, and we therefore hold that the ALJ's conclusion that appellant's alcohol problem was remediable was not supported by substantial evidence.
The fact that Ferguson may have undergone what was formerly thought to be successful detoxification some time ago does not present evidence that he now has the ability to control his drinking. Indeed, the fact that appellant has been hospitalized more than once as a result of his drinking problem, see id. at 55-58, 118; see, e. g., id. at 110-14, 143-47, suggests that while past detoxification was apparently thought to have been successful, see id. at 114, the roots of the disease remained deep within appellant. One of the more tragic aspects of alcoholism is that the hopes spawned by an apparently successful effort to "dry out" may in a moment be dashed against the rocks of a whiskey glass. Moreover, while the medical summary written when appellant was discharged from his 1977 hospital admission concludes that detoxification was successful, it also notes that "this patient is very much in need of followup service in the community," and that appellant would be referred to a local mental health center and to an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter. Id. at 114. Hence, the reports of appellant's past detoxification provide little guidance concerning his present ability to control his alcoholism. The conclusory assertion that because a person has once stopped drinking, he can again do so, id. at 20, is unwarranted and shows an insensitivity to the problems faced by alcoholics.
Furthermore, a finding that an individual is not disabled by alcoholism cannot rest solely upon the testimony of the individual himself, since such testimony may be filled with "the rationalizations of a sick individual who does not realize the extent of his illness." Adams, supra, 548 F.2d at 245; accord, Lewis, supra, 574 F.2d at 456. Hence, appellant's own testimony concerning his drinking problem cannot support the finding that his alcoholism is remediable. In light of the fact that no competent medical evidence was presented concerning appellant's ability to control his drinking, and that the only evidence on this subject was appellant's own testimony together with hospital reports that a past detoxification effort was thought to have been successful, we find that the ALJ's conclusion that appellant could stop drinking was unsupported by substantial evidence, and we therefore remand for further proceedings on this issue.
We have found that the ALJ's conclusions that appellant was able to perform substantial gainful activity existing in the national economy, and that appellant was able to control his drinking problem voluntarily, were unsupported by substantial evidence. However, we cannot agree with appellant that he has conclusively proven his disability and is therefore entitled to a decision in his favor based upon the existing record. The record is simply inconclusive as to whether jobs exist in the
REVERSED AND REMANDED.
We have considered appellant's remaining claims and find them to be without merit.