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Lundblade v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 27, 2019

LORIE LUNDBLADE, Petitioner,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Pending is Petitioner Lorie Lundblade's Petition for Review (Dkt. 1), [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.

         I. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         On March 21, 2014, Petitioner protectively applied for Title II disability and disability insurance benefits. (AR 25.) Petitioner alleged disability beginning August 1, 2007. (Id.) Her claims were denied initially on June 20, 2014 and then again on reconsideration on November 3, 2014. (Id.) On December 23, 2014, Petitioner timely filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id.) Petitioner appeared and testified at a hearing held on September 15, 2016 before ALJ Tanya Dvarishkis. (Id.) Impartial vocational expert Kent Granat also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.)

         On October 26, 2016, the ALJ issued a Decision denying Petitioner's claim, finding that she was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 36.) Petitioner timely requested review from the Appeals Council on or about November 14, 2016. (AR 169.) On November 21, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Petitioner's Request for Review, making the ALJ decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. (AR 1.)

         Petitioner's administrative remedies having been exhausted, she 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 2 (Dkt. 1). Petitioner contends the ALJ erred by (1) assessing an RFC that is unsupported by substantial evidence with respect to her ability to reach, handle, and finder with her upper extremities; and (2) failing to elicit a reasonable explanation for the inconsistencies between the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and the jobs provided by the vocational expert when finding that Petitioner could engage in other work. See generally Pet'r's Mem. (Dkt. 20). Petitioner asks that the ALJ's decision be vacated and this matter be remanded for further administrative proceedings. Id. at 17.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To be 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).

         “Substantial 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).

         With 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 Cir. 2004).

         With 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).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Sequential Process

         In 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.

         The 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 did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of August 1, 2007 through her date last insured of June 30, 2013. (AR 27.)

         The 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, Petitioner had the following severe impairments:

left shoulder impingement with partial thickness cuff tear, status post arthroscopy with other procedures; left shoulder degenerative arthritis, status post left total shoulder arthroplasty; left greater trochanteric bursitis, status post bursectomy; left hip osteoarthritis, status post left total hip arthroplasty; right knee medial meniscal tear, anterior cruciate ligament tear, and osteoarthritis, status post right total knee replacement; left knee tricompartmental osteoarthritis, status post left total knee arthroplasty; ...

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