United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
E. BUSH CHIEF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
before the Court is Petitioner Lyudmila Artemenko's
Petition for Review (Docket No. 1), seeking review of the
Social Security Administration's decision denying her
application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits
and Supplemental Security Income benefits. See
generally Pet. for Review (Docket No. 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:
November 28, 2012, Petitioner Lyudmila Artemenko
(“Petitioner”) filed an application for Title II
disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental
security income, alleging disability beginning October 15,
2009 (later amended to June 13, 2011). Both claims were
denied on April 3, 2013 and, again, on reconsideration on
June 5, 2013. On June 24, 2013, Petitioner timely filed a
Request for Hearing. On June 11, 2014, Administrative Law
Judge Louis Catanese, Jr. held a hearing in Boise, Idaho, at
which time Petitioner, represented by attorney Taylor
Mossman, appeared and testified. Impartial vocational expert,
Polly Peterson, also appeared and testified.
September 15, 2014, the ALJ issued a Decision denying
Petitioner's claim, finding that she was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Petitioner
timely requested a review from the Appeals Council and, on
May 31, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Petitioner's
Request for Review, making final the ALJ's decision.
exhausted her administrative remedies, Petitioner timely
filed the instant action, 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, p. 2
(Docket No. 1). In particular, Petitioner argues that (1)
“[t]he ALJ erroneously rejected the opinions of
treating physicians and consultative examiner John Casper,
M.D.”; (2) “[i]n finding that the Petitioner had
the residual functional capacity to perform light work, the
ALJ erred”; (3) “[t]he ALJ erred by not properly
considering whether [Petitioner's] conditions meet or
equal the Medical-Vocational Guidelines under Appendix 2 to
Subpart P of Part 404”; and (4) “[t]he ALJ
erroneously rejected the credibility of [Petitioner] by not
providing clear and convincing reasons for doing so.”
Pet.'s Mem. ISO Pet. for Review, p. 8 (Docket No. 18).
Petitioner therefore requests that the Court either reverse
the ALJ's decision and find that she is entitled to
disability benefits or, alternatively, remand the case for
further proceedings and award attorneys' fees. See
id. at p. 20; see also Pet. for Review/Compl.,
p. 2 (Docket No. 1).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
upheld, the Commissioner's decision must be supported by
substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Matney ex. rel.
Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 1992);
Gonzalez v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1197, 1200 (9th Cir.
1990). Findings as to any question of fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, are conclusive. See 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 Hall v. Sec'y of Health, Educ. &
Welfare, 602 F.2d 1372, 1374 (9th Cir. 1979).
evidence” is defined as such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971); Tylitzki v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 1411, 1413
(9th Cir. 1993); Flaten v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). The
standard requires more than a scintilla but less than a
preponderance (see Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d
1112, 1119 n. 10 (9th Cir. 1975); Magallanes v.
Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989)), and
“does not mean a large or considerable amount of
evidence.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552,
questions of fact, the Court's role is to review the
record as a whole to determine whether it contains evidence
allowing a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions of the
ALJ. See Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; see also
Matney, 981 F.2d at 1019. The ALJ is responsible for
determining credibility and resolving conflicts within the
medical testimony (see Allen v. Heckler, 749 F.2d
577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984)), resolving any ambiguities (see
Vincent ex. rel. Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393,
1394-95 (9th Cir. 1984)), and drawing inferences logically
flowing from the evidence contained in the record (see
Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982)).
Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the reviewing court may not substitute its
judgment or interpretation of the record for that of the ALJ.
See Flaten, 44 F.3d at 1457; Key v.
Heckler, 754 F.2d 1545, 1549 (9th Cir. 1985).
questions of law, the ALJ's decision must be based on
proper legal standards and will be reversed for legal error.
See Matney, 981 F.2d at 1019. At the same time, the
ALJ's construction of the Social Security Act is entitled
to deference if it has a reasonable basis in law. See
id. 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.” See
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
(see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920) - or
continues to be disabled (see 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1594, 416.994) - within the meaning of the Social
first step requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant
is engaged in substantial gainful activity
(“SGA”). See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). SGA is defined as work
activity that is both substantial and gainful.
“Substantial work activity” is work activity that
involves doing significant physical or mental activities.
See 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.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572(b), 416.972(b).
If the claimant has engaged in SGA, disability benefits are
denied, regardless of how severe her physical/mental
impairments are and regardless of her age, education, and
work experience. See 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 June 13, 2011, the alleged onset
date.” (AR 14).
second step requires a determination of whether the claimant
has a medically determinable impairment, or combination of
impairments, that is severe and meets the duration
requirement. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An impairment or
combination of impairments is “severe” if it
significantly limits an individual's 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
establish only a slight abnormality or a combination of
slight abnormalities that would have no more than a minimal
effect on an individual's ability to work. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521, 416.921. If there is no
severe medically determinable impairment or combination of
impairments, benefits are denied. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). The ALJ found that
Petitioner has the following severe impairments:
“obesity, hypertension, meralgia paresthetica,
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine,
dermatitis of the hands, and a history of migraine
headaches.” (AR 14).
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. See 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. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If the
claimant's impairments neither meet nor equal one of the
listed impairments, the claimant's case cannot be
resolved at step three and the evaluation proceeds to step
four. See id. Here, the ALJ concluded that
Petitioner's above-listed impairments, while severe, do
not meet or medically equal, either singly or in combination,
the criteria established for any of the qualifying
impairments. See (AR 16).
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. See 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. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1545, 416.945. Likewise, an individual's past
relevant work is work performed within the last 15 years or
15 years prior to the date that disability must be
established; also, the work must have lasted long enough for
the claimant to learn to do the job and be engaged in
substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1560(b), 404.1565, 416.960(b), 416.965. On
this point, the ALJ concluded:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find the
claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)
except she is limited to frequently handling and fingering.
She is not able to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The
claimant can balance on an unlimited basis. She can
frequently stoop and climb stairs or ramps. She can
occasionally kneel, crouch and crawl.
fifth and final step, if it has been established that a
claimant can no longer perform past relevant work because of
her 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. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v),
404.1520(f), 416.920(f); see also Matthews v.
Shalala, 10 F.3d 678, 681 (9th Cir. 1993). Here, the ALJ
found that Petitioner is capable of performing past relevant
work as a teacher's aide/office manager (as well as other
jobs) because such work does not require the performance of
work-related activities precluded by Petitioner's RFC.
See (AR 22-23). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that
Petitioner “has not been under a disability, as defined
by the Social Security Act, from June 13, 2011, through the
date of this decision.” (AR 23).
Petitioner's Physician's Conflicting
claims that the ALJ improperly considered the medical
evidence - specifically, the various treating and examining
physicians' opinions speaking to her functional
limitations. See Pet.'s Brief, p. 6 (Docket No.
18) (“The ALJ erroneously rejected the opinions of
treating physicians and consultative examiner John Casper,
M.D.”). The ALJ is responsible for resolving
ambiguities and conflicts in the medical testimony. See
Magallanes, 881 F.2d at 750. The ALJ must provide clear
and convincing reasons for rejecting the uncontradicted
medical opinion of a treating or examining physician, or
specific and legitimate reasons for rejecting contradicted
opinions, so long as they are supported by substantial
evidence. See Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211,
1216 (9th Cir. 2005). However, “[t]he ALJ
need not accept the opinion of any physician, including a
treating physician, if that opinion is brief, conclusory, and
inadequately supported by clinical findings.”
Chaudhry v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 661, 671
(9th Cir. 2012). Additionally, the ALJ may
discount physicians' opinions based on internal
inconsistencies, inconsistencies between their opinions and
other evidence in the record, or other factors the ALJ deems
material to resolving ambiguities. See Morgan v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 601-02
(9th Cir. 1999).
Petitioner argues that the ALJ did not give the appropriate
level of deference to the opinions of Eric Hall, D.O, James
Whiteside, M.D., and John Casper, M.D. See
Pet.'s Brief, pp. 8-13 (Docket No. 18).
Hall, a treating physician since May 2013, opined in a June
2, 2014 “Medical Opinion” that, “[b]ecause
of her severe left hip pain, [Petitioner] is not capable of
any job requiring lifting” and that “she also
would have difficulty sitting for long periods of time (more
than one hour at a time).” (AR 596). Dr. Hall
additionally opined that Petitioner is not capable of
engaging in any type of work on a full-time basis and would
be absent from work 4-5 times per month because of her
“left hip pain/meralgia paresthetica.”