United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge.
is Petitioner Renee Karin Olinger’s Petition for
Review (Dkt. 1), appealing the Social Security
Administration’s final decision finding her not
disabled and denying her claim for supplemental security
income 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.
April 6, 2015, Petitioner Renee Karin Olinger
(“Petitioner”) protectively applied for
supplemental security income. (AR 18.) Petitioner alleged
disability beginning January 1, 2001, later amending her
alleged onset date to March 1, 2017. (Id.) Her claim
was denied initially on June 7, 2015 and then again on
reconsideration on August 28, 2015. (Id.) On October
7, 2015, Petitioner timely filed a written request for
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Id.) Petitioner appeared and
testified at a hearing held on May 26, 2017 in Boise, Idaho.
(Id.) Impartial vocational expert Polly Peterson
also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) At
the hearing, Petitioner amended her alleged onset date to
March 1, 2017. (Id.)
August 8, 2017, ALJ Stephen Marchioro 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 filing date of April 6, 2015
through the date of the decision. (AR 29–30.)
Petitioner timely requested review from the Appeals Council
on August 25, 2017. (AR 186– 187.) On January 30, 2018,
the Appeals Council denied Petitioner’s Request for
Review, making the ALJ decision the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. (AR 1.)
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 2 (Dkt. 1). Petitioner argues that the ALJ’s
RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence
because the ALJ failed to properly weigh opinion evidence of
record, instead relying on his own lay interpretation of the
medical data. See generally Pet’r’s Mem.
(Dkt. 17). Petitioner asks that the ALJ’s decision be
vacated and this matter be remanded for further
administrative proceedings, including a de novo
hearing and decision. Id. at 13.
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 filing date of April 6,
2015 through the date of the ALJ’s decision. (AR 20.)
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” if it does not significantly limit
the claimant’s physical or mental ability to do basic
work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1522, 416.922. 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, as of the date of his decision,
Petitioner had the following severe impairments:
“diabetes mellitus; status post great left toe and
second left toe amputations; peripheral neuropathy; history
of pneumococcal meningitis; schizoaffective disorder; anxiety
disorder.” (AR 20.)
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, her 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 Petitioner did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments. (AR 21–22.)
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 her ability to do physical and mental work activities
on a sustained basis despite limitations from her
impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945. An
individual’s past relevant work is work she 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 Petitioner had the RFC:
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967 (b) except
she would have to be able to alternate between sitting and
standing while remaining at the work station, in that she can
stand for up to 15 minutes before having to sit for 5
minutes; she can never operate foot controls with the left
lower extremity; she can frequently climb ramps/stairs and
balance; she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
she can occasionally be exposed to extreme cold or extreme
heat; she must avoid all exposure to vibration with the left
lower extremity; she should avoid all use of unguarded moving
mechanical parts and exposure to unprotected ...