MATTHEW K. HALL, Petitioner,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
RONALD E. BUSH, Magistrate Judge.
Pending before the Court is Petitioner Matthew Hall's Petition for Review (Dkt. 1), filed July 9, 2012, seeking review of the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny 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
On February 27, 2009, Matthew Hall ("Petitioner") applied for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits, alleging a disability onset date of December 15, 2007, when he was 22 years old. Petitioner's claim was initially denied on April 29, 2009 and, again, denied on reconsideration on August 27, 2009. (AR 19.) On October 7, 2009, Petitioner timely filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 19.) On December 7, 2010, ALJ John Molleur held a hearing in Boise, Idaho, at which time Petitioner, represented by attorney Jacob Alma Bernhardt, appeared and testified. (AR 19.) Mark J. Schwager, an impartial vocational expert, also appeared and testified.
At the time of the hearing, Petitioner had past relevant work as a video rental clerk and a customer service clerk. (AR 30.) Petitioner last attended school in the twelfth grade. (AR 30.)
On February 8, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision, denying Petitioner's claims, finding that Petitioner was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 32.) Petitioner timely requested review from the Appeals Council which was denied on May 7, 2012, rendering the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. Petitioner contends the ALJ erred by failing to properly: (1) evaluate all of Petitioner's severe impairments; (2) support his finding that Petitioner's testimony and allegations are not fully credible; (3) discredit the lay evidence of record; and (4) give appropriate weight to the medical opinion evidence of record.
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); Flaten 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. Flaten, 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).
A. Sequential Process
In evaluating the evidence presented at an administrative hearing, the ALJ must follow a sequential process in determining whether a person is disabled in general ( see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920) - or continues to be disabled ( see 20 C.F.R. §§ ...