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Buzby v. Astrue

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

September 9, 2013

ALBERT E. BUZBY, Petitioner,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

RONALD E. BUSH, Magistrate Judge.

Now pending before the Court is Albert E. Buzby's Complaint/Petition for Review (Docket No. 1), seeking review of the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny his claim for supplement security income benefits. The 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 19, 2009, Albert E. Buzby ("Petitioner") filed an application for supplemental security income benefits, alleging a disability onset date of September 2, 2008. Petitioner's claim was initially denied on June 18, 2009 and, again, on reconsideration on September 1, 2009. On September 29, 2009, Petitioner timely filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On November 9, 2010, ALJ John T. Molleur held a hearing in Boise, Idaho, at which time Petitioner, represented by attorney David Banks, appeared and testified. An impartial vocational expert, Anne F. Aastum, also appeared and testified.

On February 1, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision denying Petitioner's claims, finding that Petitioner was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Petitioner timely requested review from the Appeals Council on March 3, 2011. On June 8, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Petitioner's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Petitioner timely files the instant action, arguing that (1) the ALJ's mental functional capacity determination is based on an improper disregard of the uncontradicted findings from examining and non-examining psychologists, and (2) the ALJ erred in rejecting the residual functional capacity assessment of treating family practitioner, Dr. Shappard. See Pet.'s Brief, pp. 13-16 (Docket No. 14). Petitioner therefore requests that the Court reverse the ALJ's decision or, alternatively, remand the case for further proceedings. See id. at pp. 2 & 16.

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 ( see 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 ( see 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 ( see 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).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Sequential Processes

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. §§ ...


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