United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge
before this Court is Petitioner Michele White's (the
surviving spouse of Tony White) Petition for Review, seeking
review of the Social Security Administration's final
decision to deny Mr. White's claim for Title II Social
Security disability benefits and Title XVI Supplemental
Security Income benefits. See generally Pet. for
Review (Docket No. 1). This action is brought pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Having carefully considered the record
and otherwise being fully advised, the Court enters the
following Memorandum Decision and Order:
January 27, 2012, Tony White filed his application for
Disability Income Benefits; and, on February 14, 2012,
protectively filed for Supplemental Security Income - in both
applications, Mr. White alleged disability beginning January
15, 2012. The claims were initially denied on March 13, 2012
and, again, on reconsideration on July 17, 2012. On July 27,
2012, Mr. White timely filed a Request for Hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On August 6,
2013, ALJ Doug Gabbard, II held a video hearing (from
McAlester, Oklahoma), at which time Mr. White, represented by
attorney Jonathan Heeps, appeared and testified from Paris,
Texas. Impartial vocational expert, Bonnie M. Ward, also
appeared and testified during the same August 6, 2013
October 30, 2013, the ALJ issued a Decision denying Mr.
White's claim, finding that he was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. Mr. White timely
requested review from the Appeals Council on December 23,
2013. Mr. White passed away on April 23, 2014. On January 20,
2015, the Appeals Council denied Mr. White's Request for
Review, making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security.
exhausted her administrative remedies, Petitioner (Mr.
White's surviving spouse) timely filed the instant
action, arguing that “[t]he final Agency decision is
not supported by substantial competent evidence and/or
contains legal error.” Pet. for Review, p. 1 (Docket
No. 1). In particular, Petitioner contends that (1) the ALJ
did not give legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the
treating cardiologist's opinion about Mr. White's
ability to sustain work activity; (2) the ALJ did not provide
clear and convincing reasons for finding Mr. White not
credible; and (3) the ALJ failed to evaluate the relevant
medical evidence before concluding that Mr. White's
impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment.
See generally Pet.'s Brief (Docket No. 15).
Petitioner therefore requests that the Court either reverse
the ALJ's Decision and find that Mr. White had been
entitled to disability benefits, or, alternatively, remand
the case for further proceedings and award attorneys'
fees. See Pet. for Review, p. 2 (Docket No. 1).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
upheld, the Commissioner's decision must be supported by
substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.
See 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. See 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.
See 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. See 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,
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, the reviewing court may not
substitute its judgment or interpretation of the record for
that of the ALJ. See 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. See 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.” See
Smith v. Heckler, 820 F.2d 1093, 1094 (9th Cir. 1987).
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”). See 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.
See 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.
See 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 his physical/mental
impairments are and regardless of his age, education, and
work experience. See 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 Mr. White had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since January 15, 2012, the alleged onset date.
See (AR 24).
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. See 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. See 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. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). Here, the ALJ
found that Mr. White had the following severe impairments:
“atherosclerotic heart disease, hypertension, status
post coronary artery bypass graft with pacemaker
implantation, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety
disorder, relational problems NOS, [and] personality disorder
NOS.” See (AR 24-26).
third step requires the ALJ to determine 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. See 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. See 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. See id. Here, the ALJ concluded that Mr.
White's above-listed impairments, while severe, did not
meet or medically equal, either singly or in combination, the
criteria established for any of the qualifying impairments.
See (AR 28-30).
fourth step of the evaluation process requires the ALJ to
determine whether the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) is sufficient for the claimant
to perform past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). An
individual's RFC is his ability to do physical and mental
work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from
his impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1545, 416.945. Likewise, an individual's past
relevant work is work performed within the last 15 years or
15 years prior to the date that disability must be
established; also, the work must have lasted long enough for
the claimant to learn to do the job and be engaged in
substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1560(b), 404.1565, 416.960(b), 416.965.
Here, the ALJ determined:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift
and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds
frequently; to stand and/or walk about six hours total during
an eight hour work day; and to sit for about six hours total
during an eight hour work day. He must be allowed to
alternately sit and stand every 60 minutes throughout the
workday in order to change positions but without leaving the
workstation. He can perform semiskilled work (work which
requires some detailed skills, but does not require doing
more complex work duties) where interpersonal contact with
supervisors and coworkers is on a superficial work basis, and
he will have only occasional contact with the general public.
In other words, he can perform less than the full range of
See (AR 27-39) (citing 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b),
fifth and final step, if it has been established that a
claimant can no longer perform past relevant work because of
his impairments, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
show that the claimant retains the ability to do alternate
work and to demonstrate that such alternate work exists in
significant numbers in the national economy. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v),
404.1520(f), 416.920(f); see also Matthews v.
Shalala, 10 F.3d 678, 681 (9th Cir. 1993). If the
claimant is able to do other work, he is not disabled; if the
claimant is not able to do other work and meets the duration
requirement, he is disabled. Here, the ALJ found that Mr.
White was unable to perform any past relevant work.
See (AR 39). However, the ALJ further found that
there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that Mr. White could perform, including
small product assembler and electric assembler. See
(AR 39-40). Therefore, based on his age, education, work
experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that Mr. White
“ha[d] not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from January 15, 2012, through the date
of this decision.” (AR 40).
The ALJ Properly Considered Dr. ...