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Sanders v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Idaho

February 24, 2014

DEANNA LYNN SANDERS, Petitioner,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

RONALD E. BUSH, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court is Petitioner, Deanna Lynn Sanders's Petition for Review (Dkt. 1), seeking review of the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny her 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 May 9, 2005, Deanna Lynn Sanders ("Petitioner") applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income payments, alleging a disability onset date of July 1, 2000, when she was 27 years old. Petitioner's claim was initially denied on December 6, 2005, and, again, denied on reconsideration on April 4, 2006. (AR 11). On May 25, 2006, Petitioner timely filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 11).

On February 12, 2008, ALJ Richard A. Say held a hearing in Spokane, Washington, at which time Petitioner, represented by attorney, Louis Garbrecht, appeared and testified. (AR 11). An impartial medical expert appeared and testified, and recommended additional testing. The hearing was continued and a conclusive evaluation was obtained. On August 26, 2008, there was a video hearing at which Petitioner appeared. An impartial vocational expert, Paul K. Morrison, also appeared and testified. At the time of the hearing, Petitioner had past relevant work as a plastics assembler and clothes pricer. (AR 17).

On October 22, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision, denying Petitioner's claims, finding that Petitioner was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 17). Petitioner requested review from the Appeals Council on November 17, 2008 (AR 367). Petitioner's request was denied on November 17, 2008 as untimely.

Petitioner appealed to the United States District Court for the District of Idaho. On November 25, 2009, the district court remanded Petitioner's claims back to the Social Security Administration. On June 1, 2010, ALJ Moira Ausems held a hearing in Spokane, Washington, at which time Petitioner, represented by attorney, Louis Garbrecht, again appeared and testified. (AR 436). An impartial psychological expert, Donna Veraldi, and a vocational expert, Daniel McKinney, appeared and testified. Petitioner's mother, Eileen Sanders, also was present. (AR 542).

On July 27, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying Petitioner's claims, finding that Petitioner was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 449). Petitioner requested judicial review before the Appeals Council on July 27, 2010. The Appeals Counsel adopted the decision of the ALJ as its final decision on September 21, 2011.

Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. Petitioner contends the ALJ erred by failing to: (1) find that Petitioner's impairments meet or equal a listing of impairments, (2) give adequate reasons for rejecting the medical opinions of a consultative examiner and comments from Petitioner's treating therapist, and (3) state legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the Petitioner's testimony. See Petitioner's Brief, p.9 (Dkt. 14).

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).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Sequential ...


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