United States District Court, D. Idaho
WALTER R. LEWIS, Petitioner,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent,
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
E. BUSH, CHIEF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the Court is Petitioner Walter R. Lewis's Petition for
Review (Docket No. 1), seeking review of the Social Security
Administration's denial of his application for Social
Security Disability benefits for lack of disability. 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
March 11, 2014, Walter R. Lewis (“Petitioner”)
protectively filed a Title II application for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging
disability beginning September 1, 2012. This claim was
initially denied on July 31, 2014 and, again, on
reconsideration on October 9, 2014. On December 3, 2014,
Petitioner timely filed a Request for Hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On May 6, 2016,
ALJ Lloyd E. Hartford held a video hearing from Billings,
Montana, at which time Petitioner, represented by attorney
Brad D. Parkinson, appeared and testified (in Pocatello,
Idaho). Anne T. Arrington, an impartial vocational expert,
also appeared and testified at the same May 6, 2016 hearing.
27, 2016, the ALJ issued a Decision denying Petitioner's
claim, finding that he was not disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act. Petitioner timely requested review
from the Appeals Council and, on September 29, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied Petitioner's Request for Review,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security.
exhausted his administrative remedies, Petitioner timely
filed the instant action on January 10, 2018, 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,
p. 2 (Docket No. 1). Specifically, Petitioner claims that the
ALJ erred in determining that he does not have a severe
impairment. See Pet.'s Brief, p. 2 (Docket No.
16) (“Contrary to this finding, the evidence does
support a finding of severe impairments and the
Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence.”). Petitioner therefore requests that the
Court either reverse the ALJ's decision and find that he
is entitled to disability benefits or, alternatively, remand
the case for further proceedings and award attorneys'
fees. See id. at p. 10; see also Pet. for
Review, 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). The standard is fluid and nuanced, requiring
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, 565 (1988).
respect to questions of fact, the role of the Court is to
review the entire record to determine whether it contains
evidence that would allow 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 in medical testimony (see Allen v.
Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir. 1984)), resolving
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
(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).
respect to 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. 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 his physical/mental
impairments are and regardless of his 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 September 1, 2012, the alleged onset
date.” (AR 17).
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. See 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 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 the claimant does not have
a severe medically determinable impairment or combination of
impairments, disability benefits are denied. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). Here, the ALJ
found that Petitioner has the following medically
determinable impairments: “fracture of the left heel;
right shoulder rotator cuff tear and right acromioclavicular
(AC) joint osteoarthritis; deep vein thrombosis (DVT).”
(AR 17). However, the ALJ went on to conclude that:
The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that has significantly limited (or is expected to
significantly limit) the ability to perform basic
work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore,
the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination
to the absence of a severe impairment, the ALJ did not
consider the third, fourth, and fifth steps of the sequential
process and concluded that Petitioner “has not been
under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act from
September 1, 2012, through the date of this Decision.”
(AR 21) (internal citations omitted).