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Jenkins v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

March 30, 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. 12 & 16. Plaintiff Chenae Jenkins appeals the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of benefits. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in assessing the Plaintiff's credibility, in weighing the medical evidence, and in posing proper hypothetical questions to the vocational expert and assessing the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity. 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 did not finish high school and took special education classes while in school. At the time of the hearing in May 2012, Plaintiff was 30 year of age and had previous work experience as a home health attendant and a nurse's assistant. Plaintiff believes she is entitled to benefits as a result of numerous severe physical and mental conditions that have made her unable to work since February 1997. Specifically, Plaintiff suffers from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, fibromyalgia, a spine problem, scoliosis, and knee pain, among others.

Plaintiff has been treated for her physical impairments with Group Health and for her mental impairments with Family Services Spokane and Spokane Mental Health.

At the hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has suffered from a number of severe impairments, including intermittent headache disorder, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obesity, fibromyalgia, and polysubstance abuse in full sustained remission. Nonetheless, the ALJ denied benefits on the grounds that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work and is capable of performing the requirements of certain occupations that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits on September 30, 2010. This application was denied as was her request for reconsideration. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a request for hearing. The ALJ conducted a hearing and, on September 12, 2013, issued a decision denying benefits. Plaintiff requested a review of the decision by the Appeals Counsel, which 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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