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Noggles v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

April 1, 2015

LORI LYNN NOGGLES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JAMES P. HUTTON, Magistrate Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 14, 15. Attorney Lora Lee Stover represents plaintiff (Noggles). Special Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey E. Staples represents defendant (Commissioner). The parties consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 7. After reviewing the administrative record and the briefs filed by the parties, the court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 15.

JURISDICTION

Previously Noggles was found eligible for disability income benefits (DIB) as of March 1, 2005, based on mental limitations (Tr. 22). It was determined that as of July 29, 2011 she was no longer eligible for disability benefits (Tr. 148-50). Reconsideration was denied (Tr. 152-57). Pursuant to plaintiff's timely hearing request, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Marie Palachuk held a hearing February 7, 2013. Plaintiff, two medical experts and a vocational expert testified (Tr. 44-87, 170). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision March 1, 2013 (Tr. 19-42). Plaintiff asked the Appeals Council for review March 23, 2013, but they denied her request May 1, 2014 (Tr. 1-6, 17-18). She appealed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) on June 16, 2014. ECF No. 1, 4.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The facts appear in the administrative hearing transcript, the decisions below and the parties' briefs. They are only briefly summarized here and throughout this order as necessary to explain the Court's decision.

ALJ determined plaintiff's disability ended as of July 29, 2011. On that date Noggles was 51 years old. She attended school for twelve years but left before graduation. She has not earned a GED. She has worked as a baker, commercial cleaner, auto parts deliverer and short order cook (Tr. 33, 63-65, 76, 293, 359).

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. However, an eight-step process is used to determine if a person continues to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. 404.1594. Step one determines if the person is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If so and any applicable trial work period has been completed, the complainant is no longer disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404. 1594(f)(1). At step two, it is determined whether plaintiff has an impairment or combination of impairments which meets or medically equals the criteria of any listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1524 and 404.1526. If claimant does, he disability continues. 20 C.F.R. 404.1594(f)(2).

At step three it must be determined whether medical improvement has occurred. 20 C.F.R. 404.1594(f)(3). Medical improvement is any decrease in medical severity of the impairment(s) as established by improvements in symptoms, signs and/or laboratory findings. 20 C.F.R. 404.1594(b)(1). If medical improvement has occurred, the analysis proceeds to the fourth step. If not, the analysis proceeds to the fifth step.

At step four, it must be determined whether medical improvement is related to the ability to work. 20 C.F.R. 404.1594(f)(4). Medical improvement is related to the ability to work if it results in an increase in the claimant's capacity to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. 404.1594(b)(3). If it does, the analysis proceeds to the sixth step.

At step five, it must be determined if any exception to medical improvement applies.. 20 C.F.R. 404. 1594(f)(5). There are two groups of exceptions: 20 C.F.R. 404.1594(d) and (e). If one of the first group of exceptions applies, the analysis proceeds to the next step. If one of the second group of exceptions applies, the claimant's disability ends. If none apply, the claimant's disability continues.

At step six, it must be determined whether all the claimant's current impairments in combination are severe. 20 C.F.R. 404.1594(f)(6). If all current impairments in combination do not significantly limit the ability to do basic work activities, the claimant is no longer disabled. If they do, the analysis proceeds to the next step.

At step seven, the claimant's residual functional capacity must be assessed based on the current impairments and it must be determined if past relevant work can be performed. 20 C.F.R. 404.1594(f)(7). If a claimant is able to perform past relevant work, ...


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