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K.W.B. v. Astrue

September 27, 2010

K.W.B., PETITIONER,
v.
MICHAEL ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Ronald E. Bush U. S. Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Now pending before the Court is K.W.B.'s Petition for Review (Docket No. 3), seeking review of the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny his claim for disability insurance benefits. This action is brought pursuant to section 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (incorporating 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Having carefully reviewed the record and otherwise being fully advised, the Court enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order:

I. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Petitioner's mother applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits on behalf of Petitioner, a minor, on February 28, 2006; he was denied initially on May 3, 2006 and, again, on reconsideration on August 29, 2006. See Pet.'s Brief, p. 2 (Docket No. 11). On November 15, 2006, Petitioner made a request (good cause was established for the late filing) for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). See id. On June 10, 2008, the ALJ held a hearing in Boise, Idaho, at which time Petitioner, represented by attorney Joanne Kibodeaux, appeared and testified. (AR 23). A medical expert, James R. Bruce, Ph.D., also appeared and testified during the same June 10, 2008 hearing.

On November 7, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying Petitioner's claims, finding that Petitioner was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 23-35). Petitioner requested review from the Appeals Council on January 9, 2009. (AR 10). On March 10, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Petitioner's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. (AR 6).

Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Petitioner timely files the instant action, arguing that the ALJ's and Appeals Council's decisions are not supported by substantial competent evidence and/or contain legal errors. See Pet.'s Brief, p. 7 (Docket No. 11); see also Pet. for Review, p. 1 (Docket No. 3). Specifically, Petitioner asserts that (1) medical records, submitted after the hearing but before the ALJ's November 7, 2008 decision, were ignored by both the ALJ and the Appeals Council; (2) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Petitioner's credibility; and (3) the administrative record was not properly developed. See Pet.'s Brief, pp. 7-14 (Docket No. 11). Petitioner requests that the Court reverse the ALJ's decision and order the payment of benefits or, alternatively, remand the case for proper consideration of the evidence. See id. at p. 14; see also Pet. for Review, p. 2 (Docket No. 3).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

To be upheld, the Commissioner's decision must be supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Matney ex. rel. Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992); Gonzalez v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1197, 1200 (9th Cir. 1990). Findings as to any question of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In other words, if there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's factual decisions, they must be upheld, even when there is conflicting evidence. Hall v. Sec'y of Health, Educ. & Welfare, 602 F.2d 1372, 1374 (9th Cir. 1979).

"Substantial evidence" is defined as such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Tylitzki v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 1411, 1413 (9th Cir. 1993); Flatten v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). The standard requires more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance, Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n. 10 (9th Cir. 1975); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989), and "does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence." Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988).

With respect to questions of fact, the role of the Court is to review the record as a whole to determine whether it contains evidence that would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions of the ALJ. See Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; see also Matney, 981 F.2d at 1019. The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility and resolving conflicts in medical testimony, Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984), resolving ambiguities, see Vincent ex. rel. Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394-95 (9th Cir. 1984), and drawing inferences logically flowing from the evidence, Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation in a disability proceeding, the reviewing court may not substitute its judgment or interpretation of the record for that of the ALJ. Flatten, 44 F.3d at 1457; Key v. Heckler, 754 F.2d 1545, 1549 (9th Cir. 1985).

With respect to questions of law, the ALJ's decision must be based on proper legal standards and will be reversed for legal error. Matney, 981 F.2d at 1019. The ALJ's construction of the Social Security Act is entitled to deference if it has a reasonable basis in law. See id. However, reviewing federal courts "will not rubber-stamp an administrative decision that is inconsistent with the statutory mandate or that frustrates the congressional purpose underlying the statute." Smith v. Heckler, 820 F.2d 1093, 1094 (9th Cir. 1987).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Sequential Process

In evaluating the evidence presented at an administrative hearing, the ALJ must follow a three-step sequential process in determining whether an individual under the age of 18 is disabled (see 20 C.F.R. ยง ...


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