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Carolyn K. Motley v. Michael J. Astrue

December 17, 2010


This social security action was submitted to the court, without oral argument, for ruling on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion is denied and the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is affirmed.


In July 2006, plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (Act), alleging disability beginning on July 1, 2006, based on asthma, hernia, hearing loss, obesity, borderline diabetes, history of cancer, insomnia, and history of gallstones. (Transcript (Tr.) at 89-95, 99-100.) The application was denied initially on October 17, 2006, and upon reconsideration on February 26, 2007. (Tr. at 63-67, 70-75.) Pursuant to plaintiff's timely request, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on December 11, 2007. (Tr. at 33-60, 78.) Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing, as did a vocational expert. (Tr. at 33-34, 37-44, 45-59.) In a decision issued on June 23, 2008, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not been under a disability since July 17, 2006, the date her application was protectively filed. (Tr. at 10-25.) The ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 17, 2006, the application date (20 CFR 416.920(b) and 416.971 et seq.).

2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with moderate to severe obstructive defect, sensorineural hearing loss in the bilateral ears, left greater than right, right-sided inguinal hernia, status post hernia repair and morbid obesity (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 since July 17, 2006, the claimant has retained the residual functional capacity to lift 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, to stand/walk for about six hours in an eight hour day, and to sit for about six hours in an eight hour day. The claimant will require an at-will sit/stand option. The claimant will also have postural limitations that preclude climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and crawling and that preclude more than occasional climbing of stairs, crouching, kneeling or stooping, as well as environmental limitations that preclude working around hazards, dangerous machinery, poor ventilation, heights, and strong or concentrated levels of noxious fumes, smoke, noises, dust, pollen or other allergans [sic]. The claimant does have some limitations in hearing and needs a hearing aid, however, he [sic] is able to read, write and effectively communicate in English.

5. The claimant has no past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).

6. The claimant was born on June 17, 1964 and was 42 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).

7. The claimant has a limited education, having completed only through the 11th grade, but she is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).

8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work (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 July 17, 2006, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

(Tr. at 13-25.) On February 5, 2009, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 1-5.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on April 6, 2009.


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 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The five-step process has been summarized 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 ...

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