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Conlee v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

March 31, 2014

JOHN D. CONLEE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

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For John D Conlee, Plaintiff: Rebecca Mary Coufal, LEAD ATTORNEY, Rebecca Coufal Law Office, Spokane, WA.

For Carolyn W Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Jeffrey R McClain, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Seattle, WA; Pamela Jean DeRusha, LEAD ATTORNEY, U S Attorney's Office - SPO, Spokane, WA.

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In June of 2004, Plaintiff John D. Conlee applied for Supplemental Security Income (" SSI" ) benefits and Disability Insurance Benefits (" DIB" ) under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner of Social Security denied the applications.

Plaintiff, represented bye Rebecca M. Coufal, Esq., commenced this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § § 405 (g) and 1383 (c)(3). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. (Docket No. 6).

On February 3, 2014, the Honorable Rosanna Malouf Peterson, Chief United States District Judge, referred this case to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B). (Docket No. 23).


The procedural history may be summarized as follows:

On June 23, 2004, Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits and DIB, alleging disability beginning November 7, 2002. (T at 47).[1] The applications were denied initially and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ). On July 17, 2007, a hearing was held before ALJ Marguerite Schellentrager. (T at 792). On August 28, 2007, ALJ Schellentrager issued a written decision denying the applications for benefits and finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (T at 44-60). Plaintiff sought review by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. On March 10, 2009, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request and remanded the matter for a supplemental hearing. (T at 36-39).

A supplemental hearing was held before ALJ Schellentrager on December 10, 2009. (T at 746-90). On May 19, 2010, the ALJ issued a second decision denying the applications for benefits. (T at 18-33). The ALJ's second decision became the Commissioner's final decision on June 29, 2012, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T at 8-10).

On June 8, 2012, Plaintiff, acting by and through his counsel, timely commenced this action by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. (Docket No. 5). The Commissioner interposed an Answer on September 5, 2012. (Docket No. 10).

Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on March 13, 2013. (Docket No. 19). The Commissioner moved for summary judgment on April 25, 2013. (Docket No. 20). As noted above, the parties consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge. (Docket No. 6).

For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion is granted, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and this case is dismissed.


A. Sequential Evaluation Process

The Social Security Act (" the Act" ) defines disability as the " inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical

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or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § § 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act also provides that a plaintiff shall be determined to be under a disability only if any impairments are of such severity that a plaintiff is not only unable to do previous work but cannot, considering plaintiff's age, education and work experiences, engage in any other substantial work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § § 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). Thus, the definition of disability consists of both medical and vocational components. Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920. Step one determines if the person is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If so, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If not, the decision maker proceeds to step two, which determines whether plaintiff has a medially severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).

If plaintiff does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied. If the impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third step, which compares plaintiff's impairment with a number of listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii); 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P App. 1. If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, plaintiff is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment is not one conclusively presumed to be disabling, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step, which determines whether the impairment prevents plaintiff from performing work which was performed in the past. If a plaintiff is able to perform previous work that plaintiff is deemed not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At this step, plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) is considered. If plaintiff cannot perform past relevant work, the fifth and final step in the process determines whether ...

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