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 is denied, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is reversed, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this order.
On September 27, 2005, plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) child's disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act) for her six-year-old son VonChee Cossey. (Transcript (Tr.) at 13, 59-61, 80-86.) Plaintiff alleged that VonChee, who was born on July 10, 1999, was disabled by asthma, ADHD and eczema beginning on January 1, 2001. (Tr. at 81.) The application was denied initially on March 28, 2006, and upon reconsideration on June 7, 2006. (Tr. at 36-37, 43-46, 48-51.) On October 24, 2007, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") held a hearing at which both plaintiff and VonChee, represented by attorney Jesse S. Kaplan, testified. (Tr. at 373-96.) In a decision dated February 14, 2008, the ALJ determined that Vonchee was not disabled. (Tr. at 13-27.) The ALJ entered the following findings:
1. The claimant was born on July 10, 1999. Therefore, he was a preschooler on September 27, 2005, the date the application was filed, and is currently a school-age child (20 CFR 416.926a(g)(2)).
2. It is undisputed that the claimant, a child, has never engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time relevant to this decision (20 CFR 416.924(b) and 416.972).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, an oppositional defiant disorder, a bipolar disorder and asthma. (20 CFR 416.924(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 416.924, 416.925 and 416.926).
5. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals the listings (20 CFR 416.924(d) and 416.926a).
6. The claimant has not been disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, since September 27, 2005, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.924(a)).
(Tr. at 18-27.) On August 11, 2008, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's hearing decision. (Tr. at 5-8.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on September 28, 2008.
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 Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 973 (9th Cir. 2000); Morgan v. Comm'r of 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. 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 child is disabled for purposes of the SSI program, the ALJ should apply the three-step sequential evaluation process established under Title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations, § 416.924. This evaluation process was developed after the statutory definition of childhood disability and the standard for determining whether a child is eligible for disability benefits were altered in 1996 by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, Pub. L. No. 104-193, § 211, 110 Stat. 2105 (1996). See Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006, 1013 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing legislative history indicating that the change in the law was designed so that only needy children with severe disabilities ...