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Wrath-Smith v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

January 26, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


SALVADOR MENDOZA, Jr., District Judge.

Before the Court, without oral argument, are cross-summary-judgment motions. ECF Nos. 16 & 21. Plaintiff Tammy Jo Wrath-Smith appeals the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of benefits. ECF No. 5. Plaintiff contends the ALJ did not properly consider (1) the opinions of examining physicians regarding her psychological and mental limitations, and (2) her subjective symptom testimony. The Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") asks the Court to affirm the ALJ's decision.

After reviewing the record and relevant authority, the Court is fully informed. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the ALJ's decision and therefore denies Plaintiff's motion and grants the Commissioner's motion.

A. Statement of Facts[1]

Plaintiff has an 8th grade education and was in special education for math, reading, and science. ECF No. 13 at 25. At the time of her hearing, Plaintiff was living in her RV and immediately prior to that she had been living with friends and at a women's shelter. Id. at 26. Plaintiff suffers from a variety of physical ailments including back pain, asthma and other pulmonary problems, and obesity. Id. at 22-23. Further, Plaintiff has some mental impairments that result in mild restriction for activities of daily living and moderate difficulties with social functioning. Id. at 23. Though Plaintiff has worked as a fast food worker, as a chicken processing plant worker, and as a store laborer, she has not worked or sought employment since 2012. Id. at 26, 31.

In June 2010, psychologist Dr. Debra Brown examined Plaintiff and diagnosed her with mild retardation, among other conditions. Id. at 29. In February 2011, psychologist Dr. Jay Toews also examined Plaintiff and diagnosed her with borderline intellectual functioning, among other conditions. Id. Dr. Cynthia Collingwood examined the medical record in this case and determined that Plaintiff was capable of simple routine work. Id. at 131.

At her hearing, Plaintiff testified that she cannot lift more than five pounds with her right arm, no more than ten pounds with both of her arms, and that her hips or knees want to give out every once in a while. Id. at 26. Further, Plaintiff said that she has severe back pain that is exacerbated by even basic activities such as sitting. Id. at 27. Plaintiff also testified that the medication that she takes for her edema makes her go to the restroom extremely frequently. Id. at 26. According to her, she cannot walk long distances and that climbing stairs poses great difficulty. Id. Based on these contentions and the medical evidence in the record, Plaintiff believes this Court should overturn the ALJ's findings. Plaintiff did not testify as to any mental health limitations. Id. at 29.

B. Procedural History

In July 2012, Plaintiff filed for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. She alleges her disability began August 2008. Though this is not her first application for benefits, the current claim was denied by the Social Security Administration in September 2012. Shortly thereafter, in December 2012, Plaintiff's claim was denied again on reconsideration. Plaintiff sought review. In May 2013, an ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim after a hearing. Plaintiff's subsequent request for review of the ALJ's decision was denied. Plaintiff now brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), claiming that the ALJ's decision is based on legal error and not supported by substantial evidence.

C. Disability Determination

A "disability" is defined 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 decision-maker uses a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

Step one assesses whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If he is, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is not, the decision-maker proceeds to step two.

Step two assesses whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not, the disability claim is denied. If the claimant does, the evaluation proceeds to the third step.

Step three compares the claimant'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(d), 404 Subpt. P App. 1, 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment does not, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step.

Step four assesses whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work he has performed in the past by examining the claimant's residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the claimant is able to perform his previous work, he is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform this work, the evaluation proceeds to the fifth step.

Step five, the final step, assesses whether the claimant can perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f); see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 (1987). If the claimant can, the disability ...

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