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Boe v. Astrue

April 30, 2009

PAUL MILO BOE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



ORDER

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, the court will affirm the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner).

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI on April 8, 2003, alleging disability since August 10, 1995 due to back, knee, and left wrist pain. (Transcript (Tr.) at 56-59, 91.) The application was denied initially on June 13, 2003 and upon reconsideration on September 17, 2003. (Tr. at 42-52.) Pursuant to a timely request made by plaintiff's attorney, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on June 27, 2006. (Tr. at 14, 53-54, 336-85.) Plaintiff testified at the hearing. (Tr. at 339-72.)

In a decision dated September 28, 2006, the ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 8, 2003, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 416.920(b) and 416.971 et seq.).

2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: residual effects of lumbar fusion surgery and knee and wrist strain (20 CFR 416.920(c)).

3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).

4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work activity that does not involve frequent bending.

5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).

6. The claimant was born on November 21, 1970 and was 32 years old on the date the application was filed, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44 (20 CFR 416.963).

7. The claimant has a GED high school equivalent education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).

8. The claimant has an unskilled past relevant work background. Transferability of job skills is not an issue in this case because the claimant's past relevant work is unskilled (20 CFR 416.968).

9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.960(c) and 416.966).

10. The claimant has not been under a "disability," as defined in the Social Security Act, since April 8, 2003 (20 CFR 416.920(g)), the date the application was filed.

11. The claimant's history of alcoholism or substance abuse is not a contributing factor material to the determination of disability.

(Tr. at 16-22.) On May 8, 2007, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for administrative review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 5-7, 9.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on June 29, 2007.

LEGAL STANDARD

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. 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. Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing 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. 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, 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, 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, Sections 404.1520 and 416.920. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The five-step process has been summarized in the Ninth Circuit as follows:

Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. ...


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