United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge.
is Petitioner Stacey Eileen Mora's Petition for
Review (Dkt. 1), appealing the Social Security
Administration's final decision finding her not disabled
and denying her claim for disability insurance
benefits. See 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.
10, 2013, Petitioner Stacey Eileen Mora
(“Petitioner”) applied for Title II disability
and disability insurance benefits. (AR 20.) Petitioner
alleged disability beginning September 1, 2009.
(Id.) Her claim was denied initially on September 4,
2013 and then again on reconsideration on September 19, 2013.
(Id.) On September 23, 2013, Petitioner timely filed
a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Id.) Petitioner appeared and
testified at a hearing held on August 27, 2015 in Spokane,
Washington. (Id.) Impartial medical experts R.
Thomas McKnight, Ph.D., and Wil Nelp, M.D., appeared and
testified at that hearing. (Id.) Petitioner
subsequently appeared and testified at a second hearing held
on January 13, 2016, also in Spokane, Washington.
(Id.) Impartial vocational expert K. Diane Kramer
appeared and testified at this second hearing. (Id.)
February 17, 2016, ALJ Marie Palachuk issued a Decision
denying Petitioner's claim, finding that Petitioner was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
during the period from her alleged onset date through the
date last insured. (AR 31.) Petitioner timely requested
review from the Appeals Council on or about April 14, 2016.
(AR 4.) On June 9, 2017, the Appeals Council denied
Petitioner's Request for Review, making the ALJ decision
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.
exhausted her administrative remedies, Petitioner filed this
case. She contends 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 argues that the ALJ erred
by failing to obtain updated medical expert testimony and by
failing to give the opinions of treating provider Dr. De
Silva proper weight. See generally Pet'r's
Br. ISO Pet. for Review (Dkt. 15). Petitioner asks for
reversal and a holding that she is disabled, or, in the
alternative, that the case be remanded for a further hearing.
Pet. for Review 2 (Dkt. 1).
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 did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the period from her alleged onset date of
September 1, 2009 through her date last insured of December
31, 2014. (AR 22.)
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). ...