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.
On February 8, 2006, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act), alleging disability beginning on November 15, 1998 due to bipolar, back, right wrist, lower extremity weakness, high blood pressure, and heart problems. (Transcript (Tr.) at 106-10, 125-36.) The application was denied initially on March 27, 2006, and upon reconsideration on February 2, 2007. (Tr. at 77-89.) A hearing held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on February 13, 2008, was continued to April 10, 2008, to allow the ALJ to review extensive new medical records produced by plaintiff's administrative counsel. (Tr. at 27-34.) Plaintiff testified at the April 10, 2008 hearing, as did plaintiff's sister and a vocational expert. (Tr. at 35-76.) In a decision issued on August 28, 2008, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled at any time from the alleged date of onset through December 31, 2002, plaintiff's date last insured. (Tr. at 14-26.) The ALJ entered the following findings:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2002 (Exhibit 3D/1). Thus, he must establish disability prior to or on that date.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of November 15, 1998 through his date last insured of December 31, 2002 (20 CFR 404.1520(b) and 404.1571 et seq) (Exhibit 3D/2).
3. Through December 31, 2002, the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairment: Degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, residuals of 1998 cerebrovascular accident, bipolar disorder, and obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled 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, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). He should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb stairs and ramps, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He is able to frequently balance, and he must avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations and moderate exposure to hazards. Mentally, he is able to do simple repetitive tasks with decreased public interaction.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant's past relevant work as an Extruder Machine Operator did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity at that time (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from November 15, 1998, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2002, the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).
8. The claimant's distant history of alcohol and other drug abuse is not material to this decision. The objective evidence (exhibit 2F) and his testimony support this finding.
On January 16, 2009, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 1-10.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on March 16, 2009.
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 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. ...