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Hyten v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 31, 2017

DELANA REGINA HYTEN Petitioner,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER ON PETITION FOR REVIEW

          Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Now pending before the Court is Petitioner Delana Regina Hyten's Petition for Review (Dkt. 1), seeking review of the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny her disability benefits.[1] 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. BACKGROUND AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         On October 11, 2011, Petitioner applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits. She filed an application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits on October 19, 2011. Each of these petitions alleged a disability onset date of December 14, 2010. (AR 17). These claims were denied initially on February 17, 2012, and denied upon reconsideration on September 14, 2012. (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 July 19, 2013. ALJ Thomas Cheffins presided over the hearing, at which the Petitioner was present and represented by Mary Kay Fowler, an attorney. A Vocational Expert, Gretchen A. Bakkenson, gave testimony at the hearing, as did Petitioner herself. (Id.) At the time of the hearing, Petitioner was 44 years old and had past relevant work as a retail sales clerk, as an assistant store manager, a building parts assembler, and as a psychiatric technician. (AR at 36-40).

         On August 10, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision denying Petitioner's claims, finding that Petitioner was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 17-25). On September 17, 2013, Petitioner requested review from the Appeals Council. (AR 12.) The Appeals Council then denied review on March 18, 2015, (AR 6-8), making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.

         Petitioner seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. Petitioner contends the ALJ failed to accord proper weight to the opinion evidence in the file. 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 physical impairments, which included degenerative disc disease in the lumbar and cervical spine, bilateral plantar fasciitis, and obesity. (Petitioner's Brief, Dkt. 15 at p. 2).

         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); 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).

         “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); 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, 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, 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).

         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 Process

         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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