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Stiles v. Astrue

August 14, 2009

GARY STILES, 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, plaintiff's motion is denied, defendant's cross-motion is granted, and the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is affirmed.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 2, 2004, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act), alleging onset of disability on June 19, 2003. (Transcript (Tr.) at 73-75.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially on May 21, 2004, and upon reconsideration on November 18, 2004. (Tr. at 43-44.) Plaintiff's request for a hearing was received by the Social Security Administration on January 14, 2005. (Tr. at 54.) On May 31, 2005, while awaiting a hearing date, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Act. (See tr. at 20.*fn1 ) Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI were considered at the hearing held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in North Carolina on August 1, 2005. (Tr. at 375-402.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing, as did a vocational expert. At a supplemental hearing before the same ALJ on September 14, 2006, plaintiff was represented by the same attorney and again testified, as did a second vocational expert. (Tr. at 403-30.) In a decision issued on December 21, 2006, the ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2008.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 19, 2003, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1520(b), 404.1571 et seq., 416.920(b) and 416.971 et seq.).

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), toxic lead exposure and degenerative disc disease (cervical) (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(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, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift/carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, sit, stand and walk for 6 hours each in an 8 hour workday. He should never climb ladders, scaffolds or ropes. The claimant is able to reach overhead, finger and feel frequently but should avoid concentrated exposure to fumes and exposure to hazards. He is capable of performing simple 1-2 step tasks and having occasional contact with the public.

6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.956).

7. The claimant was born on September 17, 1956, and was 46 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 45-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).

8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).

9. 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).

10. 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), 404.1566, 416.960(c), and 416.966).

11. The claimant has not been under a "disability," as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 19, 2003 through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(Tr. at 22-31.)

On August 11, 2007, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 6-9.) Plaintiff, who is now residing in California, sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on September 20, 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. ...


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