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, defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment is denied, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is reversed, and the matter is remanded for payment of benefits.
Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act) on May 19, 2005, alleging disability beginning on December 31, 2003, based on surgery for a broken hip, right knee surgery, and arthritis in his right hip. (Transcript (Tr.) at 56-60, 80-86.) The application was denied initially on July 22, 2005, and upon reconsideration on September 16, 2005. (Tr. at 39-53.) Pursuant to plaintiff's timely request, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on April 9, 2007. (Tr. at 286-320.) Plaintiff, represented by Bruce Hagel, Esq., testified at the hearing, as did a vocational expert. In a decision dated June 4, 2007, the ALJ entered the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2010.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 15, 2005, the amended alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1520(b) and 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: status post right hip posterior fracture dislocation with ORIF with post-traumatic arthritis, status post arthroscopic partial meniscectomy debridement of the right knee, degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine, and depression ([sic] CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. 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 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that based upon the combined disability to his right hip, and right knee, the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work activity. He is only able to stand and walk for a few minutes at a time. While he is up and about, he cannot do any bending, stooping, lifting, carrying, running, jumping, squatting, or kneeling (Exhibit 11F/29-30).
Based upon Dr. Foster's findings, his mental residual functional capacity reads as follows, he is mildly impaired in his ability to relate and interact with supervisors and co-workers. His ability to understand, remember, and carry out an extensive variety of technical and/or complex job instructions is moderately to significantly impaired. He has difficulty with auditory processing as well as visual processing and recall, which may interfere with his ability to follow through on complex verbal or written instructions. His ability to understand, remember, and carry out detailed but uncomplicated job instructions is moderately impaired. His limitations in attention and concentration suggest that he has difficulty attending to complex, detailed instructions. His ability to understand[,] remember, and carry out simple one or two-step instructions is moderately impaired. His ability to deal with the public is mildly impaired. Per report, he gets anxious around strangers. His ability to maintain concentration, persistence, and attention is moderately impaired, especially if the task involves complex, multiple step instructions. His ability to withstand the stress and pressures associated with day-to-day activity is moderately impaired as he continues to adjust to his post-injury limitations and experience of depression, anxiety, and frustration (Exhibit 10F/6-7). 5 [sic]. The claimant is unable to perform any of his past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
6. The claimant was born on February 17, 1978 and was 27 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on March 15, 2005 (20 CFR 404.1563).
7. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
8. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled," whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
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 404.1560(c) and 404.1566).
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from December 21, 2003 through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
On August 14, 2007, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for administrative 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 October 8, 2007.
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. If not, proceed to step two.
Step two: Does the claimant have a "severe" impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, then a finding of not disabled is appropriate.
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is automatically determined disabled. If not, proceed to step four.
Step four: Is the claimant capable of performing his past work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. ...