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Stewart v. Colvin

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

January 22, 2015

RANDALL C. STEWART, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER ADOPTING FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED

BRIAN MORRIS, District Judge.

I. SYNOPSIS

Plaintiff Randall C. Stewart seeks judicial review of the decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin ("Commissioner"), the acting Commissioner of Social Security, to deny Stewart's application for disability benefits. (Doc. 1). Stewart moved for summary judgment on May 12, 2014. (Doc. 14). United States Magistrate Judge Keith Strong issued Findings and Recommendations on December 9, 2014, that recommended this Court deny Stewart's motion and enter judgment in favor of the Commissioner. (Doc. 18). Stewart timely filed objections to the Findings and Recommendations, and the Commissioner has responded. (Docs. 19, 20).

The Court will review de novo the portions of the Findings and Recommendations to which Stewart objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court will review for clear error the remainder of the Findings and Recommendations. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Commodore Bus. Mach., Inc. , 656 F.2d 1309, 1313 (9th Cir. 1981).

II. JURISDICTION

Stewart resides in Cascade County, Montana. Cascade County lies within the Great Falls Division of the District of Montana. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e) and Local Rule 1.2(c)(3).

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The Court adopts by reference the background facts, administrative record, and procedural history as enumerated in the Findings and Recommendations. (Doc. 18). Stewart applied for disability benefits in August 2010 seeking to establish a period of disability and his entitlement to disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner denied Stewart's claim in October 2010. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Stewart's claim on reconsideration in March 2011.

Stewart requested a hearing. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing in May 2012. The ALJ issued a decision in July 2012 that denied Stewart disability benefits. (AR 17-23).

The ALJ found that Stewart met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012. (AR 17). The ALJ conducted the five-step disability evaluation process and determined that (1) Stewart had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged disability onset date; (2) he had the severe impairments of cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease; (3) his impairments do not establish a disability under the Listing of Impairments; (4) he was unable to perform any past relevant work; and, (5) he has the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of medium work and is capable of performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.

Stewart sought review of the ALJ's decision by the SSA Appeals Council. The SSA Appeals Council denied Stewart's request for review in November 2013. This denial made the Commissioner's decision final. The SSA Appeals Council's denial of Stewart's request for review made the ALJ's decision final for purposes of judicial review. 20 CFR §§ 404.981, 404.1481.

IV. LEGAL STANDARD

An applicant may seek judicial review of a final agency decision. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). This Court's review is limited. The Court reviews de novo any part of a Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations to which proper objections have been made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

A claimant must meet two criteria in order to qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Act: (1) the claimant must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death, or that has lasted, or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months; and, (2) the impairment is of such severity that, considering the clamant's age, education, and work experience, the claimant not only is unable to perform previous work, but also is unable to engage in any other kind of substantial ...


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