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Charlton v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

April 4, 2018

JOHN L. CHARLTON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ROBERT H. WHALEY Senior United States District Judge

         Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, ECF Nos. 13-14. Mr. Charlton brings this action seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the Commissioner's final decision, which denied his application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C §§ 401-434. After reviewing the administrative record and briefs filed by the parties, the Court is now fully informed. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Mr. Charlton's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. Jurisdiction

         Mr. Charlton filed for Disability Insurance Benefits on March 19, 2014. AR 137-38. His alleged onset date is August 5, 2013. AR 137-38. Mr. Charlton's application was initially denied on June 26, 2014, AR 92-94, and on reconsideration on September 16, 2014, AR 98-102.

         A hearing with Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Marie Palachuk occurred on May 21, 2015. AR 37-70. On July 10, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Mr. Charlton ineligible for disability benefits. AR 14-36. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Charlton's request for review on November 20, 2015, AR 1-4, making the ALJ's ruling the “final decision” of the Commissioner.

         Mr. Charlton timely filed an action challenging the denial of benefits, on January 15, 2016. Case No. 2:16-CV-0013-RHW. On October 2, 2016, this Court remanded the case to the ALJ to consider the opinion of Dr. Michael D'Angelo, Psy.D., and the objective testimony related to Mr. Charlton's mental impairments, and then recalculate the residual functional capacity and Mr. Charlton's ability to perform past relevant work, as well as work available in the national economy. Case No. 2:16-CV-0013-RHW, ECF No. 17 at 15-16.

         A second hearing was held with ALJ Palachuk on February 23, 2017. AR 639-61. On March 1, 2017 the ALJ issued a decision finding Mr. Charlton ineligible for disability benefits. AR 617-32. Because the Appeals Council did not assume jurisdiction, the decision of the ALJ became final, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(d), and Mr. Charlton filed his current Complaint in District Court on May 10, 2017 (ECF No. 3), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Sequential Evaluation Process

         The Social Security 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). A claimant shall be determined to be under a disability only if the claimant's impairments are of such severity that the claimant is not only unable to do his previous work, but cannot, considering claimant's age, education, and work experience, engage in any other substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A) & 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) & 416.920(a)(4); Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006).

         Step one inquires whether the claimant is presently engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) & 416.920(b). Substantial gainful activity is defined as significant physical or mental activities done or usually done for profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572 & 416.972. If the claimant is engaged in substantial activity, he or she is not entitled to disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 & 416.920(b). If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two.

         Step two asks whether the claimant has a severe impairment, or combination of impairments, that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) & 416.920(c). A severe impairment is one that has lasted or is expected to last for at least twelve months, and must be proven by objective medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1508-09 & 416.908-09. If the claimant does not have a severe impairment, or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied, and no further evaluative steps are required. Otherwise, the evaluation proceeds to the third step.

         Step three involves a determination of whether any of the claimant's severe impairments “meets or equals” one of the listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be sufficiently severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526 & 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926; 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P. App. 1 (“the Listings”). If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is per se disabled and qualifies for benefits. Id. If the claimant is not per se disabled, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step.

         Step four examines whether the claimant's residual functional capacity enables the claimant to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e)-(f) & 416.920(e)-(f). If the claimant can still perform past relevant work, the ...


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