United States District Court, D. Idaho
DONNA D. BINGHAM, Petitioner,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
HONORABLE RONALD E. BUSH CHIEF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
is Petitioner Donna D. Bingham's Petition for Review
(Dkt. 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.
August 19, 2014, Petitioner Donna D. Bingham
(“Petitioner”) protectively applied for Title II
disability and disability insurance benefits. (AR 13.)
Petitioner alleged disability beginning August 18, 2014.
(Id.) Her claim was denied initially on November 14,
2014 and then again on reconsideration on March 27, 2015.
(Id.) On March 31, 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 February 8, 2017 in Boise,
Idaho. (Id.) Impartial vocational expert Polly A.
Peterson also appeared and testified at the hearing.
19, 2017, ALJ Christopher R. Inama 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 alleged onset date through the date of
the decision. (AR 24.) Petitioner timely requested review
from the Appeals Council on August 14, 2017. (AR 156.) On May
16, 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 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.” Pet. for Review 2 (Dkt. 1). Petitioner
argues that the ALJ erred by (1) improperly rejecting the
opinions of treating providers; (2) determining that
Petitioner's allegations of pain and other symptoms were
not consistent with the medical evidence of record without
providing clear and convincing reasons; (3) dismissing third
party testimony without providing germane reasons; and (4)
assigning an RFC that was not supported by substantial
evidence. See generally Pet'r's Mem. (Dkt.
11). Petitioner asks for reversal and a finding that she is
disabled, with a remand for an immediate award of benefits.
Pet. for Review 2 (Dkt. 1); Pet'r's Mem. 20 (Dkt.
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 alleged onset date of
August 18, 2014 through the date of the ALJ's decision.
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:
“Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) / Collagenous
Colitis.” (AR 16.)
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 18.)
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 404.1567(b),
except she can tolerate uninterrupted standing and walking up
to 30 minutes at a time and 3-hours out of an 8-hour workday.
The claimant can sit for 1-hour at a time, for up to 8-hours
in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can occasionally climb
ramps and stairs but never ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The
claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and
crawl and has no manipulative limitations. The claimant
should not be subjected to concentrated exposure of vibration
and should avoid all exposures to hazards, such as
unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. She cannot
perform commercial driving. The claimant should work indoors
within 150 feet from a restroom.
18.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ further found that Petitioner
was capable of performing her past relevant work as a
purchasing agent and as an insurance clerk. (AR 23-24.) The
ALJ did not reach the fifth step of the analysis because his
conclusion at the fourth step mandated a finding that
Petitioner was not disabled.
on the finding that Petitioner could perform past relevant
work at step four of the analysis, the ALJ ultimately
concluded that Petitioner “has not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from
August 18, 2014, through the date of this decision.”
raises four primary issues with the ALJ's decision.
First, she argues the ALJ erred by improperly rejecting the
opinions of treating providers. Second, she argues the ALJ
erred by improperly rejecting her subjective testimony.
Third, she argues the ALJ erred by improperly dismissing
third party testimony. Fourth, she argues the ALJ erred by
assigning an RFC that is not supported by substantial
evidence. See generally Pet'r's Mem. (Dkt.
11). Each argument will be addressed in turn.
The ALJ Erred in Weighing the Opinions of Certain ...