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Bell v. Astrue

July 17, 2009



This social security action was submitted to the court, without oral argument, for ruling on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and remand, and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and remand is granted, defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment is denied, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this order.


On July 16, 2004, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (Act).*fn1 (Transcript (Tr.) at 67-69.) The application was denied initially on December 15, 2004, and upon reconsideration on July 29, 2005. (Tr. at 50-53, 56-61.) On August 24, 2005, plaintiff submitted a timely request for a hearing on the denials. (Tr. at 49.) The scheduled administrative hearing was continued initially to provide plaintiff additional time to seek representation and was continued a second time to give plaintiff time to obtain new counsel after he relocated to the Sacramento area. (Tr. at 347-57, 358-62.) At the administrative hearing held on May 21, 2007, plaintiff was represented and testified. (Tr. at 363-91.) In a decision issued on June 13, 2007, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not been under a disability since June 22, 2004, the date his application for SSI was protectively filed. (Tr. at 11-21.) The ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 10, 1988, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 416.920(b) and 416.971 et seq) (Exhibit 1D/2).

2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: Obesity, diabetes, and illiteracy (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 sedentary work activity. He is not limited in sitting during an 8-hour workday. He can stand/walk for up to two hours during an 8-hour workday. He is unlimited in his ability to lift and carry. He is limited in climbing, stooping, kneeling, and crouching because of his obesity and shortness of breath. He has no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental workplace limitations (Exhibit 4F/7).

4.*fn2 The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR § 416.965).

5. The claimant was born on May 28, 1973 and was 31 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on June 22, 2004, the date the SSI application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).

6. The claimant has a limited education (8th grade) and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).

7. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because applying the Medical-Vocational Rules directly supports a finding of "not disabled," whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).

8. 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).

(Tr. at 14-21.)

On September 28, 2007, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 3-7.) On November 26, 2007, plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action.


The Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence 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 the Social Security regulations. Title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 404.1520, sets forth the test used to assess disability. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 ...

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