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Andrea Lynn Fries v. Michael J. Astrue

September 24, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Larry M. Boyle U. S. Magistrate Judge


This action is before the Court on Petitioner Andrea L. Fries's Petition for Review (Dkt. 1), seeking reversal of the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny disability benefits. This action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). After carefully reviewing the record and otherwise being fully advised, the Court enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order denying Fries's Petition for Review.


On July 9, 2007, Andrea L. Fries ("Petitioner" or "claimant") protectively filed a Title II application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits, and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of October 1, 2006. (AR 10). These claims were denied on October 18, 2007, and on appeal on January 31, 2008. The claimant requested a hearing on February 14, 2008. Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") R.S. Chester conducted a hearing in Spokane, Washington, on May 5, 2009. At the hearing, Petitioner was represented by attorney Mark B. Jones. An impartial vocational expert, Deborah N. Lapoint, and an impartial medical expert, W. Scott Mabee, Ph.D., also appeared and testified.

At the time of the hearing, Petitioner was 36 years old. (AR 15). At the hearing, Petitioner testified that she lives with her husband, four teenage children (15, 16, 17, and 19 years old), mother, and grandmother in a house. (Id.) She reported that she has a 9th grade education, and that she last worked in 2006, as a telemarketer. (Id.) She also reported past relevant work experience as certified medication aid, home attendant, hazmat technician, and camera operator. (AR 21). Petitioner has a documented history of methamphetamine abuse and drug seeking behavior, but claimed to have abstained from using methamphetamine since 2000. (AR 15) Petitioner also stated that her husband is on disability, but that she did not know what is wrong with him. (Id.)

Petitioner claims disability stemming from bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, back pain, and asthma. (Petitioner's Brief, Dkt. 16 at 1). At the hearing, Petitioner reported to being prescribed the following drugs: Seroquel, Lithium, Estradiol, multi-vitamins, and over-the-counter NSAIDs for pain. (AR 33).

On May 15, 2009, the ALJ issued his decision denying Petitioner's claim for disability. (AR 10-22). Petitioner requested review by the Appeals Council, which ultimately upheld the determination of the ALJ on March 31, 2011, making that denial the final determination of the Commissioner. (AR 1-3). In denying her claim, the Commissioner determined that Petitioner was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Id.)


A. 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).

The issue presented in this instant appeal is whether the Appeals Council's finding that Petitioner was not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and whether the finding is ...

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