Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

McCullough v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

May 17, 2018



          Fred Van Sickle Senior United States District Judge

         BEFORE THE COURT are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 14 and 18. This matter was submitted for consideration without oral argument. The plaintiff is represented by Attorney Jeffrey Schwab. The defendant is represented by Special Assistant United States Attorney Daphne Banay. The Court has reviewed the administrative record and the parties' completed briefing and is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below, the court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 18, and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 14.


         Plaintiff Lisa Marie McCullough protectively filed for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits on March 26, 2012. Tr. 286-94. Plaintiff alleged an onset date of August 1, 2010, which was amended at the first hearing to February 1, 2012. Tr. 35, 286, 289. Benefits were denied initially (Tr. 170-85) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 188-200). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held before ALJ Marie Palachuk on November 14, 2013. Tr. 32-72. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. Id. The ALJ denied benefits (Tr. 142-63); but on May 6, 2015, the Appeals Council vacated the decision and remanded the case for further proceedings (Tr. 164-69). Plaintiff subsequently appeared for a hearing before ALJ Marie Palachuk on October 7, 2015. Tr. 73-103. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. Id. The ALJ denied benefits (Tr. 9-31), and the Appeals Council denied review. Tr. 1. The matter is now before this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); 1383(c)(3).


         The facts of the case are set forth in the administrative hearing and transcripts, the ALJ's decision, and the briefs of Plaintiff and the Commissioner, and will therefore only the most pertinent facts are summarized here.

         Lisa Marie McCullough (“Plaintiff”) was 41 years old at the time of the first hearing. Tr. 37. She attended community college, but did not complete the two year degree. Tr. 38-42. In 1988, Plaintiff lives with her ex-boyfriend, and has three children all over the age of 18 that do not live with her. Tr. 46, 53. She was incarcerated previously, and reported she was released in 2001 and then in 2004. Tr. 50-52. Plaintiff has work history as a general clerk, waitress, bartender, cashier, and retail sales clerk. Tr. 37-38, 59, 69-70. Plaintiff testified that she stopped working and going to school because of an increase in symptoms from her seizures and the migraines, and sexual harassment in the workplace. Tr. 38-42, 48.

         Plaintiff testified that when she left school she was having at least one seizure a day, and grand mal seizures two or three times a week. Tr. 43-44. At the second hearing, it was noted that Plaintiff was off seizure medication, and the medical expert testified she was seizure free. Tr. 78, 81, 96. Plaintiff testified that she has migraines daily, and at least once a week has a migraine so severe that she has to go into dark room for 12-14 hours because she “can't handle the lights and the noise.” Tr. 47-48, 91-92. She reported suffering from anxiety and was put on medication but stopped due to side effects. Tr. 54-55. At the second hearing, Plaintiff testified that she was using a walker for her fibromyalgia and “falling over” which was happening at least twice a day. Tr. 90. On a “normal day, ” Plaintiff reported at the first hearing that she watches television, tries to do laundry and clean, cooks only in the microwave, and sews quilts; and at the second hearing she testified that she watches television, cleans the bathroom and does dishes, does some grocery shopping with a friend, and tries to do an adult coloring book. Tr. 51-52, 95-96. Plaintiff alleged disability due to seizures, migraines, asthma, and diabetes. See Tr. 170, 188.


         A district court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The scope of review under § 405(g) is limited; the Commissioner's decision will be disturbed “only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1158 (9th Cir. 2012). “Substantial evidence” means “relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. at 1159 (quotation and citation omitted). Stated differently, substantial evidence equates to “more than a mere scintilla[, ] but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation and citation omitted). In determining whether the standard has been satisfied, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole rather than searching for supporting evidence in isolation. Id.

         In reviewing a denial of benefits, a district court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. If the evidence in the record “is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, [the court] must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). Further, a district court “may not reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is harmless.” Id. An error is harmless “where it is inconsequential to the [ALJ's] ultimate nondisability determination.” Id. at 1115 (quotation and citation omitted). The party appealing the ALJ's decision generally bears the burden of establishing that it was harmed. Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409-10 (2009).


         A claimant must satisfy two conditions to be considered “disabled” within the meaning of the Social Security Act. First, the claimant must be “unable 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). Second, the claimant's impairment must be “of such severity that she is not only unable to do his previous work[, ] but cannot, considering [his or her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which 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 analysis to determine whether a claimant satisfies the above criteria. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v); 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). At step one, the Commissioner considers the claimant's work activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is engaged in “substantial gainful activity, ” the Commissioner must find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b); 416.920(b).

         If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the analysis proceeds to step two. At this step, the Commissioner considers the severity of the claimant's impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant suffers from “any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [his or her] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, ” the analysis proceeds to step three. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c); 416.920(c). If the claimant's impairment does not satisfy this severity threshold, however, the Commissioner must find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c); 416.920(c).

         At step three, the Commissioner compares the claimant's impairment to severe impairments recognized by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude a person from engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment is as severe or more severe than one of the enumerated impairments, the Commissioner must find the claimant disabled and award benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d); 416.920(d).

         If the severity of the claimant's impairment does not meet or exceed the severity of the enumerated impairments, the Commissioner must pause to assess the claimant's “residual functional capacity.” Residual functional capacity (RFC), defined generally as the claimant's ability to perform physical and mental work activities on a sustained basis despite his or her limitations, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1); 416.945(a)(1), is relevant to both the fourth and fifth steps of the analysis.

         At step four, the Commissioner considers whether, in view of the claimant's RFC, the claimant is capable of performing work that he or she has performed in the past (past relevant work). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant is capable of performing past relevant work, the Commissioner must find that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.