United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge
is Petitioner Natalie Lahti's Petition for Review (Dkt.
1), appealing the Social Security Administration's final
decision finding her deceased husband Chad Lahti not disabled
and denying his 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.
2, 2013, Petitioner Natalie Lahti's husband, claimant
Chad Ronald Lahti, protectively applied for Title II
disability and disability insurance benefits. (AR 21.)
Claimant alleged disability beginning July 7,
2009. (Id.) His claims were denied
initially on August 13, 2013 and then again on
reconsideration on December 16, 2013. (AR 21.) On February
13, 2014, Claimant timely filed a Request for Hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
(Id.) Claimant appeared and testified at a hearing
held on July 22, 2015 before ALJ Christopher R. Inama in
Boise, Idaho. (Id.) Impartial vocational expert Anne
F. Aastum also appeared and testified at the hearing.
October 6, 2015, the ALJ issued a Decision denying
Claimant's claim, finding that he was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 36.) Claimant
timely requested review from the Appeals Council on or about
November 18, 2015. (AR 17.) While Claimant's review was
pending, he died of a pulmonary embolism on September 23,
2016. (AR 1818.) On January 12, 2017, the Appeals Council
denied Claimant's Request for Review, making the ALJ
decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security. (AR 1.)
administrative remedies having been exhausted, Claimant's
surviving wife timely filed the instant action on his behalf,
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 by failing to consider the impact of
all of Claimant's physical and mental impairments in
assigning a residual functional capacity, by not providing
clear and convincing evidence to support his decision that
Claimant was not credible, and by improperly rejecting the
opinions of treating provider Dr. Scott Hoopes and lay
witness (and Petitioner here) Natalie Lahti. See
generally Pet'r's Mem. ISO Pet. for Review (Dkt.
13). Petitioner asks for reversal and a holding that Claimant
was disabled for a certain closed period, or, alternatively,
for remand for further administrative proceedings.
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, 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 Claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity
during the period from his alleged onset date of July 7, 2009
through his date last insured of December 31, 2013. (AR 23.)
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, through the date last insured, Claimant had the
following severe impairments: “diabetes mellitus type
II (‘diabetes'), major motor seizures,
schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder with psychosis,
depression, anxiety disorder and alcohol-substance addiction
disorder.” (AR 23.)
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 found that Claimant did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments. (AR 26-29.)
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 Claimant had the RFC:
to perform light work, as defined in 20 CFR 40.1567(b),
except limited to occasional climbing ramps and stairs; never
climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequent balance,
stoop, kneel and crouch; occasional crawl; avoid concentrated
exposure to vibrations; and avoid all exposure to hazards,
such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. He is
also limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks; with only
simple work related decisions; few workplace changes; rare,
meaning 5% of the workday, interaction with supervisors and
co-workers, with no tandem tasks, and no public contact.
(AR 29.) The ALJ further found that Claimant was unable to
perform any of his past relevant work through his date ...