United States District Court, D. Idaho
CORI L. SEYBERT Petitioner,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER ON PETITION FOR
HONORABLE RONALD E. BUSH CHIEF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
pending before the Court is Petitioner Cori Seybert'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.
BACKGROUND AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS
March 26, 2013, Petitioner applied for Social Security
Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits, alleging
a disability onset date of October 15, 2012. (AR 13). Her
claim was initially denied on April 13, 2013, and denied upon
reconsideration on June 19, 2013. (Id.). Following
these denials, the Petitioner also filed an application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits, on
January 15, 2014, alleging the same disability onset date as
her application for SSDI benefits. (Id.) The
Petitioner thereafter requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) as to both
claims, which hearing was held by video-conference on April
22, 2014. (Id.). ALJ Ben Wilner presided over the
hearing, at which the Petitioner was present and represented
by Mario Davila, a non-attorney representative. A Vocational
Expert, Kent Granant, gave testimony at the hearing, as did
Petitioner herself. (Id.) At the time of the
hearing, Petitioner was 41 years old and had past relevant
work as a data entry clerk, sales clerk, and as a cosmetic
demonstrator. (Petitioner's Brief, Dkt. 16 at p. 2).
September 4, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying
Petitioner's claims, finding that Petitioner was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR
9-23). On October 1, 2014, Petitioner requested review from
the Appeals Council. (AR 7.) The Appeals Council then denied
review on December 9, 2015, (AR 1-6), making the ALJ's
decision the Commissioner's final decision.
now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision
to deny her benefits. Petitioner contends the ALJ erred by
failing to accord proper weight to the opinion evidence in
the file, particularly by disregarding the opinions of
Petitioner's treating orthopedist as to her ability to
sit for more than two hours at a time. Petitioner also argues
that the ALJ erred in finding that she was not fully credible
as to the limiting effects of pain and other symptoms arising
from primarily from her degenerative disc disease.
(Petitioner's Brief at 1).
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 Serve., 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).
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.
A. Sequential Process
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. §§
404.1594, 416.994) - within the meaning of the Social
first step requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant
is engaged in substantial gainful activity
(“SGA”). 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(I), 416.920(a)(4)(i). SGA is defined as work
activity that is both substantial and gainful.
“Substantial work activity” is work activity that
involves doing significant physical or mental activities. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1572(a), 416.972(a). “Gainful
work activity” is work that is usually done for pay or
profit, whether or not a profit is realized. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1572(b), 416.972(b). If the claimant has
engaged in SGA, disability benefits are denied, regardless of
how severe her physical/mental impairments are and regardless
of her age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If the claimant is not
engaged in SGA, the analysis proceeds to the second step.
Here, the ALJ found that the claimant had engaged in part
time work for part of the period for which disability
benefits were sought, namely, from the fall of 2012 through
May of 2013. While the ALJ concluded that these activities
did not rise to the level of SGA, he also concluded that they
might be probative of other issues, such as the
claimant's true residual functional capacity and her
credibility. (AR 14-15).
second step requires the ALJ to determine whether the
claimant has a medically determinable impairment, or
combination of impairments, that is severe and meets the
duration requirement. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii),
416.920(a)(4)(ii). An impairment or combination of
impairments is “severe” within the meaning of the
Social Security Act if it significantly limits an
individual's ability to perform basic work activities. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). An impairment or
combination of impairments is “not severe” when
medical and other evidence establishes only a slight
abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities that
would have no more than a minimal effect on an
individual's ability to work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1521, 416.921. If the claimant does not have a severe
medically determinable impairment or ...