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Skahan v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 24, 2015

KENNETH SKAHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE

DERRICK K. WATSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

INTRODUCTION

This is an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review a final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Carolyn C. Colvin (the “Commissioner”). Kenneth Skahan was awarded Social Security disability benefits based on a work injury. He contends that he was disabled from 1993 through 1999 and 2005 through 2009, but that the Social Security Administration erroneously included his earnings from these years as part of the calculation of his monthly disability insurance benefits payments. The Commissioner, however, determined that Skahan was not disabled during these years within the meaning of the Social Security Act-including from 2006 through 2008-and that the agency properly calculated the amount of Skahan’s monthly payment. Skahan disagrees. After carefully reviewing the record, the Court concludes that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) correctly determined that Skahan was receiving the full amount of monthly disability insurance benefits to which he was entitled, and the Court is otherwise without jurisdiction to review the claimed points of error. Accordingly, the Court affirms the ALJ’s September 13, 2013 decision.

BACKGROUND

On November 15, 1996, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability since June 13, 1994. The Social Security Administration (the “agency”) initially denied this claim, did so again after Skahan requested reconsideration, and did so a third time after an ALJ convened a hearing on February 12, 1998. See Opening Brief, Ex. 2 at 4. The ALJ’s May 5, 1998 decision found that Skahan was not disabled because of his ability to perform other work in significant numbers in the national economy. Opening Brief, Ex. 2 at 17.

On August 2, 2006, Skahan filed another application for disability insurance benefits, alleging that he was disabled from November 1, 2004. See Administrative Record (“AR”) 66, 68. The agency denied this claim on January 5, 2007. Opening Brief, Ex. 1 at 2. Of particular note, Skahan did not seek reconsideration of the denial of this claim. See Opening Brief at 5-6.

Skahan next filed an application for disability insurance benefits on September 13, 2011. AR 15-18, 66. In that application, Skahan stated that he became disabled on August 3, 2009. AR 15. The agency initially denied this claim on March 14, 2012. See AR 19-22. However, after Skahan requested reconsideration on March 21, 2012, the agency issued a Notice of Award on June 11, 2012, finding him disabled as of August 3, 2009, as requested. AR 23-28. Under the Notice of Award, Skahan would receive $1, 147.00 per month in disability benefits. AR 10. The Notice of Award informed Skahan that he would be entitled to benefits no earlier than twelve months before the month he filed his claim, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423. AR 24. That is, because he filed his claim on September 13, 2011, his monthly disability insurance payments would begin as of September 2010. Id.

Skahan requested reconsideration of the June 11, 2012 Notice of Award on July 12, 2012, disputing the amount of the monthly payment awarded. AR 29. On March 12, 2013, the agency issued a notice denying his request for reconsideration, explaining how it had calculated Skahan’s monthly disability payments. AR 31-35. On May 21, 2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ to challenge the calculation of his monthly disability payments. AR 36.

The ALJ issued a decision on September 10, 2013, affirming the agency’s March 12, 2013 determination of the amount of Skahan’s monthly disability payments. AR 7-14. In the decision, the ALJ took note of Skahan’s assertion that that he was disabled between 1993 and 1999, and between 2005 through 2009, and his argument that these years should not have been included in the computation of his average indexed monthly earnings. AR 13. The ALJ determined that these periods of alleged disability were not included as such in the agency’s calculation because the agency did not find Skahan to be disabled under the Act until August 3, 2009. AR 13. The ALJ found that the agency properly applied the procedures set forth in the statute and the agency’s regulations to calculate the amount of Skahan’s monthly disability payment. AR 13-14.

Skahan filed a request for review of the ALJ’s decision on October 4, 2013. AR 93. Thereafter, on December 24, 2014, the ALJ’s decision became the Commissioner’s final decision when the Appeals Council denied Skahan’s request for review. AR 3-5. Skahan filed his complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on February 19, 2015. The sole issue on appeal is whether the years 2006, 2007, and 2008 should have been excluded from his computation base years. Complaint ¶ 4.b. According to Skahan:

I was wrongfully denied SSDI benefits in 2006 and the Government is also trying to lower my monthly SSDI benefit amount by including those years in my computation base years to determine my “average indexed monthly earnings”, which were incorrectly calculated. It is no longer of any consequence that I was wrongly denied benefits for the claim of 8/2/2006 but the ALJ was and is required to investigate and ascertain, whether or not I qualify, under the SSA rules, for a “period of disability” for the years in question, 2006, 2007 and 2008, which he did not. That is an abuse of discretion and an error of law.

Complaint ¶ 5.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (the “Act”), “[t]he district court reviews the Commissioner’s final decision for substantial evidence, and the Commissioner’s decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1158-59 (9th Cir. 2012); see also Treichler v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014) (“[Courts] leave it to the ALJ to determine credibility, resolve conflicts in the testimony, and resolve ambiguities in the record.”) (citations omitted). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla ...


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