United States District Court, D. Idaho
SHEREEN N. NOORIGIAN, Petitioner,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the United States Social Security Administration, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
E. Bush, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge
before the Court is Petitioner Shereen N. Noorigian's
Petition for Review (Docket No. 1), seeking review of the
Social Security Administration's decision denying her
application for child's insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act and for adult Supplemental
Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.
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
August 2013, Shereen N. Noorigian (“Petitioner”)
filed an application for disability benefits, including a
childhood disability, alleging disability beginning May 30,
2011. These claims were initially denied on September 24,
2013 and, again, on reconsideration on October 25, 2013. On
October 30, 2013, Petitioner timely filed a Request for
Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). On June 22, 2015, ALJ Luke A. Brennan
held a hearing in Boise, Idaho, at which time Petitioner,
represented by attorney Joseph F. Brown, appeared and
testified. Impartial vocational expert, Polly A. Peterson,
also appeared and testified at the same June 22, 2015
1, 2015, the ALJ issued a Decision denying Petitioner's
claim, finding that she was not disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act. Petitioner timely requested
review from the Appeals Council on August 12, 2015 and, on
September 20, 2016, the Appeals Council denied
Petitioner's Request for Review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
exhausted her administrative remedies, Petitioner timely
filed the instant action, arguing that “[t]he
conclusions and findings of fact of the defendant are not
supported by substantial evidence and are contrary to law and
regulation.” Pet. for Review, p. 2 (Docket No. 1). In
particular, Petitioner identifies the “issues”
1. Was the ALJ's credibility determination in accordance
with controlling legal standards when he dismissed the
testimony of the Petitioner and her grandmother, Hester I.
Riggs, concerning intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of her severe impairments?
2. Did the AL mischaracterize and/or ignore medical evidence,
testimony, and third-party statements that were supportive of
the Petitioner's claim in reaching his adverse decision?
Brief, p. 3 (Docket No. 12). Petitioner therefore requests
that the Court either reverse the ALJ's decision and find
that she is entitled to disability benefits or,
alternatively, remand the case for further proceedings and
award attorneys' fees. See id. at pp. 9-10;
see also 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 her physical/mental
impairments are and regardless of her 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 Petitioner “has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since May 30, 2011, 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. 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 Petitioner has the following severe impairments:
Asperger's Syndrome, personality disorder, and general
anxiety disorder. See (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. 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
Petitioner's above-listed impairments, while severe, do
not meet or medically equal, either singly or in combination,
the criteria established for any of the qualifying
impairments. See (AR 15-16).
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 her ability to do physical and mental
work activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from
her 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 that Petitioner has the RFC
“to perform a full range of work at all exertional
levels but with the following nonexertional limitations:
“[S]he can perform simple, routine work tasks. She can
tolerate occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers,
and the public.” (AR 16-18).
fifth and final step, if it has been established that a
claimant can no longer perform past relevant work because of
her 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, she is not disabled; if
the claimant is not able to do other work and meets the
duration requirement, she is disabled. Here, the ALJ found
that Petitioner has no past relevant work, but found that
there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that Petitioner can perform, including hand
packager, fruit cutter, and building maintenance laborer.
See (AR 18-19). Therefore, based on Petitioner's
age, education, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that Petitioner
“has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from May 30, 2011, through the date of
this decision.” (AR 19) (internal citation omitted).
trier-of-fact, the ALJ is in the best position to make
credibility determinations and, for this reason, his
determinations are entitled to great weight. See Anderson
v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1121, 1124 (9th Cir.
1990); see also Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722
(9th Cir. 1998) (ALJ is responsible for
determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical
testimony, and for resolving ambiguities). In evaluating a
claimant's credibility, the ALJ may engage in ordinary
techniques of credibility evaluation, including consideration
of claimant's reputation for truthfulness and
inconsistencies in claimant's testimony, or between
claimant's testimony and conduct, as well as
claimant's daily activities, claimant's work record,
and testimony from physicians and third parties concerning
the nature, severity, and effect of the symptoms of which
claimant complains. See Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d
947, 958-59 (9th Cir. 2002). Also, the ALJ may
consider location, duration, and frequency of symptoms;
factors that precipitate and aggravate those symptoms; amount
and side effects of medications; and treatment measures taken
by claimant to alleviate those symptoms. See SSR
96-7p. In short, “[c]redibility decisions are the
province of the ALJ.” Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d
597, 604 (9th Cir. 1989). However, to reject a
claimant's testimony, the ALJ must make specific findings
stating clear and convincing reasons for doing so. See
Holohan, 246 F.3d at 1208 (citing Reddick, 157
F.3d at 722).
Petitioner alleges an inability to engage in any
work activity, owing to her social anxiety and an inability
to work with or be near others. For example, within her
August 30, 2013 ...