United States District Court, E.D. Washington
LORI S. HOLMES, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
For Lori S Holmes, Plaintiff: Dana Chris Madsen, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Dana C Madsen, Spokane, WA; Maureen J Rosette, LEAD ATTORNEY, Dana Madsen Law Office, Spokane, WA.
For Carolyn W Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Pamela Jean DeRusha, LEAD ATTORNEY, U S Attorney's Office - SPO, Spokane, WA; Richard A Morris, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration - SEA, Seattle, WA.
DECISION AND ORDER
VICTOR E. BIANCHINI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
In March of 2004, Plaintiff Lori S. Holmes 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 by Dana C. Madsen, 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. 5).
On June 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. 22).
The procedural history may be summarized as follows:
On March 31, 2004, Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits and DIB. (T at 58, 139-41, 593-96). The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ"). On June 27, 2007, a hearing was held before ALJ Richard S. Say. (T at 49).
On July 16, 2007, ALJ Say issued a written decision denying the applications and finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits under the Social Security Act. (T at 55-72). The Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 31, 2009. (T at 7-10). Plaintiff sought judicial review in August of 2009 by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. ( Holmes v. Astrue, 09-CV-257).
On June 17, 2009, while her District Court appeal was pending, Plaintiff filed new applications for benefits. Those applications were denied on October 28, 2010, following a hearing. (T at 677-99). Plaintiff filed a third set of benefit applications on December 22, 2010. (T at 668-71).
On January 14, 2011, the Honorable Cynthia Imbrogno, United States Magistrate Judge, issued an Order granting Plaintiff summary judgment and remanding the matter for further proceedings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g). (Docket No. 31, in case number 09-CV-257)(T at 713-29). On October 14, 2011, the Appeals Council issued an Order vacating the original hearing decision, consolidating all three sets of applications, and remanding the consolidated application to the ALJ for further proceedings. (T at 668-71).
A further administrative hearing was held on April 17, 2012, before ALJ R.J. Payne. (T at 1124-71). On April 30, 2012, ALJ Payne issued a decision denying the applications for benefits. (T at 638-54). ALJ Payne's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on March 19, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T at 629-31).
On May 13, 2013, Plaintiff, acting by and through her counsel, timely commenced this action by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. (Docket No. 6). The Commissioner interposed an Answer on January 3, 2014. (Docket No. 16).
Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on May 5, 2014. (Docket No. 21). The Commissioner moved for summary judgment on September 19, 2014. (Docket No. 34). Plaintiff filed a reply brief on October 17, 2014. (Docket No. 38).
For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion is granted, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and this case is closed.
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 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 ...