United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge
is Petitioner Paul McManigal's Petition for Review (Dkt.
1), appealing the Social Security Administration's final
decision to deny his claim for disability and disability
insurance benefits. See generally Pet. for Review
(Dkt. 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:
November 23, 2012, Paul McManigal (“Petitioner”)
protectively applied for Title II disability and disability
insurance benefits, and for Title XVI supplemental security
income. Petitioner alleged disability beginning December 10,
2009, which he later amended to August 1, 2012. His claims
were denied initially on February 5, 2013 and then again on
reconsideration on September 13, 2013. On September 19, 2013,
Petitioner timely filed a Request for Hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On October 8,
2014, ALJ Luke A. Brennan held a hearing in Boise, Idaho,
during which Petitioner, represented by attorney Taylor
Mossman, appeared and testified. Impartial vocational expert
Beth Cunningham also appeared and testified at the hearing.
December 9, 2014, the ALJ issued a Decision denying
Petitioner's claim, concluding that Petitioner was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
Petitioner timely requested review from the Appeals Council
on or about February 10, 2015 and, on June 8, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied Petitioner's Request for Review,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security.
exhausted his administrative remedies, Petitioner timely
filed the instant action, arguing that “[t]he decision
denying Petitioner's claim is not in accordance with the
purpose and intent of the Social Security Act, nor is it in
accordance with the law, nor is it in accordance with the
evidence, but contrary thereto and to the facts and against
the evidence, in that Petitioner is disabled from performing
substantial gainful activity.” Pet. for Review 2 (Dkt.
1). Petitioner contends the ALJ erred in four ways: (1) by
rejecting or ignoring the opinions of treating physicians;
(2) by concluding that Petitioner's mental impairments
did not satisfy Listing 12.04 for Affective Disorders; (3) by
failing to consider all of Petitioner's impairments in
concluding he could adjust to other jobs; and (4) by failing
to provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting the
credibility of Petitioner and his employer. Pet'r's
Br. 8 (Dkt. 10). Petitioner requests that the Court remand
for an immediate award of benefits. Id. at 20.
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); Trevizo v. Berryhill, -- F.3d
--, 2017 WL 4053751 at *6 (9th Cir. 2017). 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. See Treichler v. Comm'r of
Social Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014).
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); Ludwig v. Astrue, 681 F.3d 1047,
1051 (9th Cir. 2012). The standard requires more than a
scintilla but less than a preponderance (Trevizo,
2017 WL 4053751 at *6), 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. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401;
see also Ludwig, 681 F.3d at 1051. The ALJ is
responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts
in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.
Treichler, 775 F.3d at 1098. Where the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
reviewing court must uphold the ALJ's findings if they
are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.
Ludwig, 681 F.3d at 1051. In such cases, the
reviewing court may not substitute its judgment or
interpretation of the record for that of the ALJ. Batson
v. Comm'r of Social Sec., 359 F.3d 1190, 1196 (9th
respect to questions of law, the ALJ's decision must be
based on proper legal standards and will be reversed for
legal error. Zavalin v. Colvin, 778 F.3d 842, 845
(9th Cir. 2015); Treichler, 775 F.3d at 1098.
Considerable weight must be given to the ALJ's
construction of the Social Security Act. See Vernoff v.
Astrue, 568 F.3d 1102, 1105 (9th Cir. 2009). 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).
evaluating the evidence presented at an administrative
hearing, the ALJ must follow a sequential process in
determining whether a person is disabled in general (20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920) - or continues to be
disabled (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594, 416.994) - within
the meaning of the Social Security Act.
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 work activity
that is both substantial and gainful. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1572, 416.972. “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 is engaged in SGA, disability benefits are
denied regardless of his medical condition, 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 Petitioner has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since August 1, 2012, the alleged onset
date. (AR 14).
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 physical or mental 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 cause no more than minimal
limitation on an individual's ability to work. SSR 96-3p,
1996 WL 374181 (July 2, 1996); see also 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). Here, the ALJ found
that Petitioner has the following severe impairments:
“schizoaffective disorder, depressive disorder, bipolar
II disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
essential hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia,
asthma, obesity, and diabetes mellitus II.” (AR 14).
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. 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 a listed impairment, his claim cannot
be resolved at step three and the evaluation proceeds to step
four. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Here,
the ALJ concluded that Petitioner's above-listed severe
impairments do not meet or medically equal, either singly or
in combination, the criteria established for any of the
qualifying impairments. (AR 15).
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. 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. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945. An
individual's past relevant work is work he performed
within the last 15 years or 15 years prior to the date that
disability must be established, as long as the work was
substantial gainful activity and lasted long enough for the
claimant to learn to do the job. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1560(b), 404.1565, 416.960(b), 416.965. Here, the ALJ
determined that Petitioner has the RFC:
to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently. He is able to sit for a total of 6 hours in an
8-hour day, stand a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour day, and
walk a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour day. He is able to
frequently kneel and occasionally crouch, crawl, and climb
ramps and stairs. He should never climb ladders or scaffolds,
work at unprotected heights or with mechanical parts, or
around dust, odors, fumes, or pulmonary irritants. He can
occasionally tolerate exposure to humidity and wetness,
extreme heat, and extreme cold. He is able to perform simple,
routine tasks and can frequently respond appropriately to
supervisors, coworkers, and the public.
(AR 18). He further found that Petitioner is unable to
perform any past relevant work. (AR 23).
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. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v),
404.1520(f), 416.920(f); see also Garrison v.
Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1011 (9th Cir. 2014). 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 there
are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that Petitioner can perform, including motel
housekeeper, laundry aide, and parking lot attendant. (AR
24). Therefore, based on Petitioner's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that Petitioner
“has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from August 1, 2012, through the date of
this decision.” Id.
argues the ALJ's decision denying benefits is not
supported by substantial evidence and is not based upon the
application of the correct legal standards. Pet'r's
Br. 8 (Dkt. 10). Specifically, Petitioner asserts that the
ALJ erred (1) in rejecting or ignoring the opinions of
treating providers; (2) in concluding that Petitioner's
mental impairments did not meet or equal Listing 12.04 for
Affective Disorders; (3) in failing to consider all of
Petitioner's impairments when evaluating whether
Petitioner could adjust to other jobs; and (4) in failing to
provide clear and convincing evidence for rejecting the
credibility of Petitioner and his employer. Id. Each
of these assignments of error are considered below.
The ALJ Erred in Rejecting the Opinions of
Petitioner's Treating Physicians without Providing
Specific and Legitimate Reasons ...