This social security action was submitted to the court, without oral argument, for ruling on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion is granted, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this order.
Plaintiff Ivan Jeleznii, Jr. applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act) on January 29, 2004, alleging disability since his birth on September 26, 1978. (Transcript (Tr.) at 55-58.) Plaintiff claimed disability based on developmental delay and on heart, back, and breathing problems. (Tr. at 61.) Plaintiff subsequently amended his application to allege an onset date of January 29, 2004. (Tr. at 229.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially on May 19, 2004 and upon reconsideration on July 19, 2004. (Tr. at 32-47.) Pursuant to plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on April 25, 2005. (Tr. at 48-51, 227-37.) Plaintiff, represented by a non-attorney representative, testified through a Russian language interpreter. (Tr. at 227-36.) A vocational expert was present at the hearing but did not testify. (Tr. at 227, 229.) In a written decision dated June 23, 2005, ALJ Robert K. Rogers, Jr. determined that plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 13-26.) The ALJ entered the following findings:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of disability.
2. The claimant has the following medically determinable impairment(s): slight thoracic scoliosis and reversal of the normal cervical lordosis.
3. The claimant does not have any impairment, or combination of impairments, that significantly limits his ability to perform basic work-related activities; therefore, the claimant does not have a "severe" impairment (20 CFR § 416.920).
4. The undersigned finds the claimant's allegations and those of his father regarding his limitations are not totally credible for the reasons set forth in the body of the decision and unique to each individual.
5. The claimant was not under a "disability" as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time through the date of this decision (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
On July 7, 2006, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 5-9.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on August 22, 2006.
The Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and the proper legal standards were applied. Schneider v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 973 (9th Cir. 2000); Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). The findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. See Miller v. Heckler, 770 F.2d 845, 847 (9th Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Morgan, 169 F.3d at 599; Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
A reviewing court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. See Jones, 760 F.2d at 995. The court may not affirm the ALJ's decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Id.; see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence supporting a finding of either disability or non-disability, the finding of the ALJ is conclusive, see Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987), and may be set aside only if an improper legal standard was applied in weighing the evidence, see Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988).
In determining whether or not a claimant is disabled, the ALJ should apply the five-step sequential evaluation process established under Title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations, §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). This five-step process can be summarized as follows:
Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. ...