United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
HONORABLE RONALD E. BUSH CHIEF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
is Petitioner Teresa L. McCoy's Petition for
Review (Dkt. 1), appealing the Social Security
Administration's final decision finding her not disabled
and denying her claims for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income. See generally Pet. for
Review (Dkt. 1). This action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Having carefully
considered the record and otherwise being fully advised, the
Court enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order:
11, 2012, Teresa L. McCoy (“Petitioner”)
protectively applied for Title II disability and disability
insurance benefits and for Title XVI supplemental security
income. (AR 10.) Petitioner alleged disability beginning
March 14, 2012 in both applications. (Id.) Her
claims were denied initially on October 22, 2012 and then
again on reconsideration on January 11, 2013. (Id.)
On January 23, 2013, Petitioner timely filed a Request for
Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Id.) Petitioner appeared and
testified at an initial hearing held on September 11, 2014 in
Spokane, Washington. (Id.) Based in part on the
testimony of impartial medical expert Dr. Anthony Francis,
M.D., Petitioner was sent for a consultative examination.
(Id.) Petitioner then appeared and testified at a
supplemental hearing on March 5, 2015. (Id.)
Impartial medical expert Dr. Richard A. Hutson, M.D., and
impartial vocational expert Kimberly Mullinax also appeared
and testified. (Id.)
April 9, 2015, ALJ Caroline Siderius issued a Decision
denying Petitioner's claims, finding that Petitioner was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
(AR 19.) Petitioner timely requested review from the Appeals
Council on April 29, 2015. (AR 6.) On July 26, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied Petitioner's Request for Review,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. (AR 1.)
exhausted her administrative remedies, Petitioner timely
filed this action, arguing that “[t]he conclusions and
findings of fact of the [respondent] are not supported by
substantial evidence and are contrary to law and
regulation.” Pet. for Review 1 (Dkt. 1). Petitioner
asserts the ALJ erred in finding her impairments did not meet
or medically equal the official listing for spine disorders
under Listing 1.04A. She further asserts error in a failure
to consider her impairments in combination when evaluating
whether she meets or medically equals a listed impairment.
See generally Pet'r's Br. (Dkt. 18).
Petitioner seeks reversal, or remand for a supplemental
moved to dismiss the petition, arguing that it was not timely
filed. (Dkt. 11.) After reviewing the briefing and supporting
materials (Dkts. 11-1, 11-2, 12-1, 13), this Court denied the
motion, holding that Respondent had not shown the petition
was untimely. (Dkt. 15.)
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, 871 F.3d
664 (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 “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,
871 F.3d at 674), 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 her 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 March 14, 2012, the alleged onset date. (AR
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:
“spina bifida occulta defect; degenerative disc
disease; and obesity.” (AR 12.)
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, her 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 found that Petitioner does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments. (AR 13-14.)
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 her ability to do physical and mental work activities
on a sustained basis despite limitations from her
impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945. An
individual's past relevant work is work she 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 up to fifteen pounds occasionally and less than ten
pounds frequently, to sit up to four hours, and stand/walk up
to six hours a day. She will need an option to alternate
between sitting and standing. The claimant can never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and she can never crawl or
kneel. She is limited to occasional bending, stooping, and
crouching. She can frequently balance. The claimant must
avoid concentrated exposure to wetness, humidity, vibration,
and extreme temperatures. She is unable to work at
unprotected heights and she must avoid uneven surfaces.
14.) The ALJ further found that Petitioner is unable to
perform any of her past relevant work. (AR 17.)
fifth and final step, if it is established that a claimant
can no longer perform past relevant work because of
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 such 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's RFC is compatible with work as an
“assembler” or a “telephone information
clerk.” (AR 18.) The ALJ further found that each of
these jobs exists in significant numbers in the national
economy. (AR 17-18.)
on the finding that Petitioner could perform jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ
ultimately concluded that Petitioner “has not been
under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act,
from March 14, 2012, through the date of this
decision.” (AR 18.)
argues the ALJ's decision denying benefits is not
supported by substantial evidence and is contrary to law and
regulation. Pet. for Review 1 (Dkt. 1). She contends the ALJ
erred by finding that her back condition did not meet or
medically equal listing 1.04A of the official listings.
Pet'r's Br. 5-8 (Dkt. 18). She further contends the
ALJ erred by failing to adequately explain how she considered
the Petitioner's severe conditions in combination.
Id. at 3-5.
Petitioner Has Not Shown She Meets the ...