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Drew v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

October 15, 2014

BILLIE L. DREW, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


ROBERT H. WHALEY, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 19, 21. James Tree represents Plaintiff Billie L. Drew. Assistant United States Attorney Pamela J. DeRusha and Special Assistant United States Attorney Jordan D. Goddard represent the Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"). Plaintiff brings this action seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Commissioner's final decision, which denied her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB").

After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' briefs, the Court is now fully informed. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, and directs entry of judgment in favor of Plaintiff.

I. Jurisdiction and Procedural History

On October 29, 2004, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB, alleging disability beginning on October 29, 2004. Transcript (hereafter "Tr.") 75-79, 421. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on January 25, 2005, and upon reconsideration on April 14, 2005. Tr. 56-60, 63-66. Thereafter, Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Plaintiff then appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing held April 24, 2007, in Vancouver, Washington. Tr. 381-92. However, during the hearing presided over by ALJ Dan Hyatt, Plaintiff threatened to commit suicide if denied benefits. Tr. 391. As a result, the ALJ ordered a psychiatric evaluation and rescheduled the hearing. Tr. 391-91.

On October 18, 2007, ALJ Hyatt held a second hearing where Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. Tr. 393-417. The ALJ also heard testimony from Brandie Edmundson (Plaintiff's daughter) and vocational expert ("VE") Gail Young. Tr. 403-16. On March 17, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. Tr. 16-23. Subsequently, the Commissioner's stipulated motion for remand was granted by Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington on April 5, 2011. Tr. 439-43. The matter was then remanded to the Commissioner for additional administrative proceedings. Tr. 445.

On February 1, 2012, a new hearing was conducted by ALJ Steve Lynch upon remand. Tr. 470-94. Plaintiff, who was represented by her attorney, appeared by video and testified at the hearing, along with Dr. William F. Spence, M.D., an impartial medical expert. Id. In addition, VE Gary Jesky also testified. Tr. 490-95. On February 6, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. Tr. 421-32. Subsequently, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, which made the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision and subject to judicial review. Thus, Plaintiff's claim is properly before this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. 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 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). A claimant shall be determined to be under a disability only if her 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), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

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)(i)-(v), 416.920; Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006).

Step 1: Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activities? 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Substantial gainful activity is work done for pay and requires compensation above the statutory minimum. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1574, 416.972; 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, 416.920(b). If she 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), 416.920(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, 416.908-09. If the impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the step three.

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), 416.920(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P. App. 1 ("the Listings"). 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 step four.

Step 4: Does the impairment prevent the claimant from performing work she has performed in the past? 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant is able to perform her previous work, she is not disabled. Id. If the claimant cannot perform this work, the ALJ proceeds to the final step five.

Step 5: Is the claimant able to perform other work in the national economy in view of her age, education, and work experience? 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f).

The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four as detailed above. Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d at 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012); Lockwood v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 616 F.3d 1068, 1071 (9th Cir. 2010). If the analysis proceeds to step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that: (1) the claimant is capable of performing other work; and (2) such work "exists in significant numbers in the national economy." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1560(c); 416.960(c)(2); Beltran v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 1203, 1206 (9th Cir. 2012).

III. Standard of Review

A district court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The scope of review under § 405(g) is limited, and the Commissioner's decision will be disturbed "only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error." Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1144, 1158-59 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing § 405(g)). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir.1997) (per curiam) (internal citation omitted). In determining whether this standard has been satisfied, "a reviewing court must consider the entire ...

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