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Winkel v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

January 13, 2015

JAMES A. WINKEL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


VICTOR E. BIANCHINI, Magistrate Judge.


In July of 2009, Plaintiff James A. Winkel applied for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner of Social Security denied the applications.

Plaintiff, represented by Dana Chris 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. 6).

On October 30, 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. 14).


The procedural history may be summarized as follows:

Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI benefits on July 28, 2009, alleging disability beginning August 21, 2007. (T at 282-90, 291-93).[1] The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On November 17, 2010, a hearing was held before ALJ Caroline Siderius. (T at 49). Plaintiff appeared with an attorney and testified. (T at 58-78). The ALJ also received testimony from Dr. Kent Layton, a medical expert (T at 53-58), and Jenny Lawson, a vocational expert. (T at 78-89).

On January 10, 2011, ALJ Siderius 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 137-53). The Social Security Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review and issued a Remand Order on March 19, 2012. (T at 154-59). In sum, the Appeals Council directed further development of the record (including a consultative examination) regarding Plaintiff's mental health limitations. (T at 155-57).

An administrative hearing on remand was held before ALJ Siderius on August 23, 2012. Plaintiff appeared with his attorney and offered additional testimony. (T at 111-22). The ALJ also received testimony from Dr. Joseph Cools, a medical expert (T at 96-111), and Thomas Polsin, a vocational expert. (T at 123-31).

On September 12, 2012, the ALJ issued a second decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (T at 17-42). The ALJ's second decision became the Commissioner's final decision on January 30, 2014, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T at 1-6).

On March 18, 2014, 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. 3). The Commissioner interposed an Answer on May 19, 2014. (Docket No. 10).

Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on October 17, 2014. (Docket No. 13). The Commissioner moved for summary judgment on November 26, 2014. (Docket No. 16). Plaintiff filed a reply memorandum of law on December 16, 2014. (Docket No. 18).

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 ...

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