United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
HONORABLE RONALD E. BUSH, CHIEF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
decision resolves Petitioner Robert Hyden's Petition for
Review (Dkt. 1), which contests the Social Security
Administration's final decision to deny him disability
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.
BACKGROUND AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS
December 4, 2009 Petitioner applied for Social Security
Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), alleging a
disability onset date of January 31st, 2009. (Dkt. 1, p. 2
& AR 353). The claim was denied, both initially and on
reconsideration. Petitioner requested and obtained a hearing,
held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) RJ
Payne on July 25, 2011. ALJ Payne issued an unfavorable
decision, which was remanded by the Appeals Council. A
second, post-remand hearing was held on October 17, 2013,
with a follow up hearing on February 3, 2014. These hearings
were also conducted by Judge Payne. (AR 41-70 & 101-120).
H.C. Alexander, a specialist in internal medicine and
rheumatology, testified at the second hearing, as did Dr.
Larry Kravitz, a psychologist. Vocational Expert K. Diane
Kramer also testified, as did Petitioner. (Id.).
Petitioner was assisted at the second hearing by a
non-attorney representative. (AR 101).
February 13, 2014, the ALJ issued his second decision. This
decision also denied Petitioner's claims, finding that
Petitioner was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. (AR 20-35). Petitioner sought a second review
from the Appeals Council, (15-19), but that was denied on
December 9, 2014, (AR 9-14), thus making ALJ's decision
the Commissioner's final decision.
petition before this Court, Petitioner contends the ALJ
failed to give proper weight to the opinions of various
medical providers, primarily those of Doris Ziegeldorf, a
treating nurse practitioner. Petitioner also argues that the
ALJ improperly weighed inconsistent opinions about the extent
of Petitioner's functional limitations, which were
obtained from several state medical consulting physicians.
Finally, Petitioner argues that the ALJ failed to fully
develop the record, and improperly arrived at an adverse
credibility finding that was not supported by clear and
convincing evidence. (Dkt. 17 p. 2).
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 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).
respect to questions of fact, 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 1035, 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.
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 evidence, the ALJ must follow a sequential process
in deciding 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 decide 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 not engaged
in SGA since December 31, 2009 the alleged date of onset of
his disability. (AR 25).
second step requires the ALJ to decide 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 establish 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 combination of
impairments, disability benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).
case, the ALJ found that Mr. Hyden had these severe
impairments: right wrist tendinitis, left knee low-grade
chondromalacia, a history of migraine headaches,
hypertension, and obesity. (AR 25). The ALJ also concluded
that Mr. Hyden had non-severe psychological impairments,
consisting of an adjustment disorder with mild anxiety and
depression and some evidence of schizoid personality traits
that did not cause more than minimal limitations in
Petitioner's ability to perform basic work activities.
third step requires the ALJ to assess the medical severity of
any impairments; that is, whether the claimant's
impairments meet or equal a listed impairment under 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the answer is
yes, the claimant is considered disabled under the Social
Security Act and benefits are awarded. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If the claimant's impairments
neither meet nor equal one of the listed impairments, the
claimant's case cannot be resolved at step three and the
evaluation proceeds to step four. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e), 416.920(e). ...