United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Ronald E. Bush, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge
is Petitioner Joseph Frank Thieme's Petition for
Review (Dkt. 1), appealing the Social Security
Administration's final decision finding him not disabled
and denying his claim 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:
6, 2013, Joseph Frank Thieme (“Petitioner”)
protectively applied for Title II disability and disability
insurance benefits and for Title XVI supplemental security
income. (AR 13.) Petitioner alleged disability beginning May
3, 2013. (Id.) His claims were denied initially on
August 2, 2013 and then again on reconsideration on September
20, 2013. (Id.) On September 26, 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 July 21,
2015 before ALJ R.J. Payne in Spokane, Washington.
(Id.) Based in part on the testimony of impartial
medical expert Minh D. Vu, M.D., Petitioner was sent for a
consultative examination. (Id.) Petitioner then
appeared and testified at a supplemental hearing on October
30, 2015. (Id.) Impartial orthopedic medical expert
Anthony E. Francis, M.D., and impartial vocational expert
Daniel McKinney, Sr., appeared and testified at the
supplemental hearing. (Id.)
December 1, 2015, the ALJ issued a Decision denying
Petitioner's claim, finding that Petitioner was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR
24.) Petitioner timely requested review from the Appeals
Council on or about December 17, 2015. (AR 7.) On April 5,
2017, 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 his administrative remedies, Petitioner timely
filed the instant 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
challenges the sufficiency of the evidence on which the ALJ
relied, arguing that the ALJ should have concluded that he
was disabled. See generally Pet'r's Br.
(Dkt. 15). Petitioner asks for reversal and a holding that he
was disabled for a certain closed period. Id. at 12.
He also asks for remand for the ALJ to decide whether he
continues to be disabled from the end of the closed period
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 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 May 3, 2013, the alleged onset date. (AR 15.)
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:
“diabetes mellitus, type II; bilateral below the knee
amputations; and hypertension.” (AR 15.)
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,