Plaintiff is proceeding pro se in this social security action. The case 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 motion is granted, and the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) is affirmed.
On April 26, 2004, plaintiff filed her first applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act) and for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Act, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2003. (Transcript (Tr.) at 59.) Plaintiff alleged that she was disabled due to poor vision and chronic neck and back pain; she also reported suffering from migraine headaches and asthma, and claimed a history of motor vehicle accidents in 1999 and 2003. (Tr. at 61-64.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on October 29, 2004, and upon reconsideration on February 24, 2005. (Tr. at 59.) Pursuant to plaintiff's request on March 14, 2005, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Marilyn S. Mauer on May 10, 2006 in Klamath Falls, Oregon. (Id.) Plaintiff appeared on her own behalf and testified at the hearing, as did a friend of plaintiff's and a vocational expert. (Id.) In a decision dated September 20, 2006, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled from January 1, 2003, through the date of the decision. (Tr. at 56-68.)
Plaintiff did not appeal the September 20, 2006 decision to the Appeals Council but instead filed new DIB and SSI applications on September 28, 2006. (Tr. at 108-19.) Therein, plaintiff alleged that she became unable to work on January 31, 2004 because of back, neck, and knee injuries, vision loss, neurological problems, and migraine headaches. (Tr. at 115, 131.) The new applications were denied initially on February 26, 2007, and upon reconsideration on June 17, 2007. (Tr. at 78-93.) Pursuant to plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before ALJ Mauer on August 22, 2008. (Tr. at 94, 34-55.) Plaintiff appeared at the hearing on her own behalf and testified, as did a second vocational expert. (Tr. at 34-35.) In a decision issued on February 11, 2009, the ALJ again found plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. at 18-25.) The ALJ entered the following findings:
1. Ms. Hoover met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2007.
2. Ms. Hoover has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 31, 2004, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1520(b), 404.1571 et seq., 416.920(b) and 416.971 et seq.).
3. Ms. Hoover has the following severe impairments: chronic neck and low back pain with no documented neurological deficits (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)). 4. Ms. Hoover 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 Ms. Hoover has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she must be permitted to sit or stand at will to relieve pain symptoms.
6. Ms. Hoover is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. Ms. Hoover was born on February 23, 1975 and was 28 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. Ms. Hoover 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 Ms. Hoover is "not disabled," whether or not she has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2). 10. Considering Ms. Hoover's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform (20 CFR 404.1560(c), 404.1566, 416.960(c), and 416.966).
11. Ms. Hoover has not been under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 31, 2004 through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)). (Tr. at 20-25.)
On May 22, 2009, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making that decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. at 7-14.) An attorney retained by plaintiff on May 11, 2009, requested an extension of time to allow counsel to review the merits of plaintiff's claims for a possible action in the district court. (Tr. at 4, 6.) On August 11, 2009, the Appeals Council granted a 30-day extension of time to file a civil action. (Tr. at 1.) Pursuant to the extension of time, plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing a pro se complaint in this action on September 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, ...