United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge.
pending before the Court is Petitioner Krystle Thies's
Petition for Review (Dkt. 1), filed July 12, 2015, 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.
BACKGROUND AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS
applied for SSDI benefits on June 6, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of March 15, 2013. This claim was
initially denied on September 4, 2013, and upon
reconsideration January 2, 2014. Thereafter, Petitioner
requested a hearing before an ALJ, which occurred on January
26, 2015. (AR 8). ALJ Luke Brennan presided over the hearing,
at which the Petitioner was present and represented by her
attorney, Michael Whipple. An impartial vocational expert,
Polly Peterson, testified at the hearing, as did Petitioner
herself. (AR 8). At or just before the hearing, on the advice
of her attorney, Petitioner requested that her alleged onset
date be amended to September 1, 2013. (AR 233,
Petitioner's Brief at p. 15). At the time of the hearing,
Petitioner was 27 years old, and had past work experience as
a photo parts cashier/delivery person, as an adult
care-giver, as an auto parts cashier/delivery driver, and as
a home health aide. (AR 20).
February 24, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision, denying
Petitioner's claims and finding that Petitioner was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR
5-19). Petitioner timely requested review from the
Appeals Council on February 25, 2014. (AR 25-26.) The Appeals
Council then denied review on August 26, 2014. (AR 1-4),
rendering the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final
decision. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. She contends
that the ALJ erred in three ways: 1) by improperly evaluating
the opinions of her treating doctor; 2) by failing to
consider the side-effects of Petitioner's medication in
assessing her residual functional capacity
(“RFC”); and 3) by improperly finding that she
was not credible as to the claim that her back pain had
worsened around the time of the amended alleged disability
onset date. (Petitioner's Brief, Dtk. 13, p. 2).
the circumstances are such that there remains doubt as to
whether Petitioner is actually disabled, the Court
nonetheless concludes that the ALJ's adverse credibility
determination was based on an erroneous reading of the
medical records, which did in fact demonstrate that
Petitioner's back condition worsened around the time of
the amended alleged onset date. The Court also concludes that
the ALJ's evaluation of the medical opinion evidence was
likewise flawed. For these reasons, the Court remands this
case to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent
with this order.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
upheld, the Commissioner's decision must be supported by
substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d
1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); 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).
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); Webb v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686
(9th Cir. 2005); 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,
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, and for resolving
ambiguities. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 12035, 1039
(9th Cir. 1995); Allen v. Heckler, 749
F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1989). The ALJ is also responsible
for 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).
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.
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. ...