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Upchurch v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

May 7, 2014

DIANA K. UPCHURCH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

ORDER ADOPTING FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

BRIAN MORRIS, Chief District Judge.

This action concerns the determination of Defendant Carolyn Colvin, the acting Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner), that Plaintiff Diana Upchurch (Upchurch) qualified for disability benefits in December 2008, and then ceased to qualify for benefits after March 2011.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Upchurch resides in Box Elder, Montana. (Doc. 1 at 1-2.) Upchurch applied on July 29, 2009, for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, and supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1 at 2.) Upchurch alleged that she had been disabled since December 2, 2008. ( Id; doc. 25 at 2.) The Commissioner denied that application on February 16, 2010. (Doc. 1 at 2; doc. 25 at 2.) Upchurch sought reconsideration, and the Commissioner affirmed the initial denial of benefits on August 25, 2010. (Doc. 1 at 2; doc. 25 at 2.)

The Administrative Law Judge conducted a hearing, at Upchurch's request, on September 29, 2011. (Doc. 1 at 2; doc. 25 at 2.) The ALJ issued a decision on December 1, 2011, that awarded Upchurch a closed period of disability benefits and supplemental security income benefits from December 2, 2008 until March 31, 2011. (Doc. 1 at 3; doc. 25 at 2.) Upchurch took an appeal to the Social Security Administration Appeals Council (SSAAC), and the SSAAC denied Upchurch's request for review on April 11, 2013. (Doc. 1 at 3; doc. 25 at 2.)

Upchurch sought judicial review of the Commissioner's decision that denied Upchurch benefits after March 31, 2011. (Doc. 1.) United States Magistrate Judge Keith Strong entered his Findings and Recommendation on March 26, 2014. (Doc. 25.) Judge Strong recommended that the Court deny Upchurch's motion for summary judgment (doc. 12), and grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (doc. 18). (Doc. 25 at 15.)

Upchurch has objected to Judge Strong's findings and recommendations. (Doc. 26.) The Commissioner has responded. (Doc. 27.) Title 28, Section 636(b)(1) of the United States Code entitles an objecting party to review de novo of the findings and recommendations to which they object. The Court will review for clear error all other findings and recommendations. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach., Inc., 656 F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981). The Court adopts Judge Strong's findings and recommendations in full for the reasons discussed.

JURISDICTION

Box Elder, Montana lies within the Great Falls Division of the District of Montana. Upchurch correctly brought suit in this District. 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g).

ANALYSIS

The Court adopts by reference the factual background as enumerated in Judge Strong's findings and recommendations. Where the issue of continued disability or medical improvement is concerned, "a presumption of continuing disability arises" in the claimant's favor once that claimant has been found to be disabled. Bellamy v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 755 F.2d 1380, 1381 (9th Cir. 1985); accord Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 748 (9th Cir. 2007). The Commissioner bears the "burden of producing evidence sufficient to rebut [the] presumption of continuing disability." Bellamy, 755 F.2d at 1381; see also Murray v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 499, 500 (9th Cir. 1983) ("The Secretary... has the burden to come forward with evidence of improvement."). A reviewing court will not set aside a decision to terminate benefits unless the determination is based on legal error or lacks support by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir.1984).

Upchurch argues first that "the uncontested findings of fact preclude [Judge Strong]'s findings and recommended decision and require summary judgment" in Upchurch's favor. (Doc. 26 at 2.) Upchurch fails to identify, however, any specific facts that preclude Judge Strong's findings and recommendations to this Court. (Doc. 26 at 2.) Despite Upchurch's failure, the Court has reviewed Upchurch's proposed uncontested findings of fact. (Doc. 14.)

Upchurch recounts with exceptional detail her medical conditions and doctor's findings. (Doc. 14 at 1-17.) No conflict exists, however, between the conclusions that Upchurch's proposed uncontested findings of fact espouse, (doc. 14 at 1-17), and those factual conclusions that Judge Strong made. (Doc. 20 at 7-8.) As no conflict exists between Judge Strong's findings and Upchurch's proposed uncontested findings of fact, Upchurch has failed to identify any error in Judge Strong's findings of fact. Upchurch's proposed uncontested findings of fact fail to require as matter of law summary judgment in Upchurch's favor.

Upchurch objects next to Judge Strong's determination that the ALJ applied correctly "the standard for termination of disability benefits in a closed period determination." (Doc. 26 at 2.) Upchurch suggests that the ALJ simply "determined [Upchurch] no longer met a Listing and determined based upon that finding she was capable of working." (Doc. 26 at 2.) Upchurch ...


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