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Layne Jensen v. Michael J. Astrue

September 25, 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 Layne Jensen'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 Jensen's Petition for Review.


On May 21, 2008, Layne Jensen ("Petitioner" or "claimant") protectively filed a Title II application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging a disability onset date of December 1, 2005. (AR 9). On June 19, 2008, Petitioner filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")

Donald R. Jensen conducted a hearing in Salt Lake City, Utah, on November 10, 2009. At the hearing, Petitioner was represented by non-attorney, G. Barrie Nielson. An impartial vocational expert, Terri L. Marshall-Gilfillan, also appeared and testified.

At the time of the hearing, Petitioner was 47 years old, 5'10" and weighed about 200 pounds. (AR 14). At the hearing, Petitioner testified that he lives in the basement of his mother's house and that he receives food stamps and Medicade. (Id.) He has a 10th grade education, with all of his past relevant work experience coming as an auto body technician. (Id.) Petitioner has been arrested 4-5 times for domestic violence. (AR 15). Petioner is a recovering alcoholic and smokes a pack of cigarettes every day. (Id.)

Petitioner appears to claim disability stemming from a variety of conditions: loss of consciousness associated with alcohol withdrawal, tremors, fibromyalgia, back pain, damage to both of his hands and wrist joints, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, PTSD, sleep issues, and a generalized depressive disorder. During the time under consideration, Petitioner reported to being prescribed the following drugs: Valporic acid; Proges HPM; Proprannolol; Metaformin; Prozac; DHEA; Hydrocodone; Lortab; diazepam; Peipcid; Cyclobenzaprine; and oxytosin.

On March 25, 2010, the ALJ issued his decision denying Petitioner's claim for disability. (AR 9-20). Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which ultimately upheld the determination of the ALJ on March 16, 2011, making that denial the final determination of the Commissioner. In denying his claim, the Commissioner determined that Petitioner was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 23-38).


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 ...

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