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David M. Wilden v. Michael J. Astrue

September 26, 2011

DAVID M. WILDEN, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHAEL J. 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 Petitioner David M. Wilden's Petition for Review (Dkt. 1), filed April 19, 2010, seeking review of the Social Security Administration's final decision to terminate his disability benefits. This action is brought pursuant to 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

In a decision dated November 21, 2002, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") awarded Petitioner, David M. Wilden, Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act") with a disability onset date of September 1, 2002. (AR 16). On May 15, 2007, Petitioner was advised that his benefits were being terminated based on a finding of medical improvement. (AR 91).

Petitioner filed a request for reconsideration on June 4, 2007 (AR 87), but the decision was affirmed on March 26, 2008 (AR 67). Petitioner then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") (AR 64) and a hearing was held on June 15, 2009 (AR 16). Petitioner, who was represented by counsel, testified at the hearing along with a medical expert and vocational expert. (AR 364-408).

On October 30, 2009, the ALJ denied Petitioner's appeal. (AR 14). The Appeals Council then denied review on January 14, 2010 (AR 5) rendering the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to terminate his benefits based on a finding of medical improvement. Petitioner contends that the finding of medical improvement is not supported by substantial evidence and that the ALJ rejected significant probative evidence without explanation.

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

A claimant's disability benefits may be terminated only if substantial evidence demonstrates that there has been medical improvement in the individual's impairment and the individual is now able to engage in substantial gainful activity. 42 U.S.C. ยง 423(f). To determine if a claimant continues to be disabled within the meaning of the ...


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