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Chavez v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

April 14, 2014

BRANDON L. CHAVEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ROBERT H. WHALEY, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 15, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 21. The motions were heard without oral argument. Plaintiff is represented by Thomas Doran. Defendant is represented by Assistant United States Attorney Pamela De Rusha and Special Assistant United States Attorney Franco L. Becia.

I. Jurisdiction

On December 16, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income (SSI). Plaintiff alleges he has been disabled beginning March 1, 2008, due to DDD (degenerative disc disease), ankylosing spondylitis, and stenosis. (Tr. 168.)

His application was denied initially on March 26, 2009, and again denied on reconsideration on June 19, 2009. A timely request for a hearing was made. On June 3, 2010, Plaintiff appeared at a hearing held in Spokane, Washington before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Marie Palalchuk. Dr. Peter Schosheim, medical expert, and Daniel R. Mckinney, Sr., vocational expert, also participated. Plaintiff was represented by attorney Thomas Doran.

The ALJ issued her decision on June 18, 2010, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on August 13, 2012. The Appeals Council's denial of review makes the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. §405(h).

Plaintiff filed a timely appeal with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington on October 10, 2012. The instant matter is before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. Sequential Evaluation Process

The Social Security Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical 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). A claimant shall be determined to be under a disability only if his impairments are of such severity that the claimant is not only unable to do his previous work, but cannot, considering claimant's age, education and work experiences, engage in any other substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987).

Step 1: Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activities? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Substantial gainful activity is work done for pay and requires compensation above the statutory minimum. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1574; Keyes v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1053, 1057 (9th Cir. 1990). If the claimant is engaged in substantial activity, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1571. If he is not, the ALJ proceeds to step two.

Step 2: Does the claimant have a medically-severe impairment or combination of impairments? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied. A severe impairment is one that lasted or must be expected to last for at least 12 months and must be proven through objective medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508-09. If the impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third step.

Step 3: Does the claimant's impairment meet or equal one of the listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P. App. 1. If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. Id. If the impairment is not one conclusively presumed to be disabling, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step.

Step 4: Does the impairment prevent the claimant from performing work he has performed in the past? 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). If the claimant is able to perform his previous work, he is not disabled. Id. If the claimant cannot perform this work, proceed to the fifth and final step.

Step 5: Is the claimant able to perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work ...


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