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Crosby v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 31, 2015

ANGELLA FARR CROSBY, Petitioner,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

RONALD E. BUSH, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court is Angella Crosby's Petition for Review (Dkt. 1), seeking review of the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny her claim for Title II Social Security Disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments. 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 December 17, 2013, Petitioner Angella Crosby ("Petitioner") filed an application for Social Security Disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits, alleging a disability onset date of August 9, 2005. AR 21. Petitioner's claims were initially denied, and denied again on reconsideration on August 26, 2011. On October 20, 2011, Petitioner timely filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Petitioner appeared and testified at a hearing held December 3, 2012. During that hearing, Petitioner amended her alleged disability onset date to March 11, 2011. On April 26, 2013, ALJ Caroline Siderius held a supplemental hearing in Spokane, Washington, at which time Petitioner, represented by attorney Erica Wood, appeared and testified. A vocational expert, Jinnie Lawson, and an impartial medical expert, Marian Martin, also appeared and testified. AR 21.

On May 17, 2013, 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 October 16, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Petitioner's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. AR 1-4.

Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Petitioner timely filed the instant action, arguing that the ALJ erred by (1) failing to discuss or give any weight to the portions of Dr. Holmes's opinion; (2) failing to find anxiety as a severe impairment at step two of the sequential inquiry; (3) failing to give proper weight to the opinion of treating psychologist, James Phillips, Ph.D.; and (4) denying benefits for a failure to follow prescribed treatment without showing that Petitioner refused to follow prescribed treatment as required under SSR 82-59.

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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