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Cantrell v. Astrue

United States District Court, D. Idaho

August 26, 2014

STEVEN CANTRELL, Petitioner,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

RONALD E. BUSH, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court is Petitioner Steven Cantrell's Petition for Review (Dkt. 1), seeking review of the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny his claim for Supplemental 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

In July of 2009, Steven Cantrell ("Petitioner" or "Claimant") applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging that he became disabled on June 20, 2000. AR 129-30. His date last insured is March 31, 2002 (AR 44), so in order to be entitled to benefits he must demonstrate a disability-severe enough to prevent him from working-existed between June 20, 2000 and March 31, 2002.

Petitioner's claim was initially denied and denied again on reconsideration. AR 71-72, 91. Petitioner timely filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On November 4, 2010, ALJ John T. Molleur held a hearing in Boise, Idaho, at which time Petitioner, represented by attorney Barbara Beehner-Kane, appeared and testified. (AR 19). A vocational expert, Anne F. Aastum, and the claimant's mother, Debra June Olive, also appeared and testified at the hearing. Id.

On December 8, 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 19-33). Petitioner timely requested review from the Appeals Council on December 8, 2010, and submitted new evidence for the Council's review. (AR 1). On July 11, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Petitioner's request for review (AR 1), 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 the ALJ did not support his decision, particularly by failing to properly (1) consider a treating physician's opinion and (2) support findings that Petitioner failed to follow medical advice and had a gap in medical treatment. See Pet.'s Br., p. 6 (Dkt. 15).

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). That is, 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 of evidence, 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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