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 motion is denied, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this order.
On April 26, 2005, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act) and an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Act, alleging disability beginning on November 1, 1999 due to depression, anxiety, dyslexia, paranoia and schizophrenia. (Transcript (Tr.) at 41-43.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on July 18, 2005, and upon reconsideration on November 21, 2005. (Tr. at 16, 43-54.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on May 4, 2007. (Tr. at 178-199.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. In a decision issued on October 18, 2007, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 13-22.) The ALJ entered the following findings:
1. Claimant met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2000.
2. Claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 1999, the alleged disability onset date (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(b), 404.1571, et seq., 416.920(b) and 416.971, et seq.).
3. Claimant has the following severe impairments: depression and anxiety (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. Claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the criteria of any section of the Listing of Impairments at 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 for twelve continuous months (20 C.F.R. 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 claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: limitation to simple repetitive tasks with no more than occasional contact with the general public.
6. Claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. Claimant was born on February 14, 1965 and was 34 years old at his alleged disability onset, and he is considered a younger individual at all times relevant herein (20 C.F.R. 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. Claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not an issue relevant to this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1568 and 416.968).
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 claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. 404.1560(c), 404.1566, 416.960(c), and 416.966).
11. Claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, beginning at any time from November 1, 1999 through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
On November 9, 2009, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 5-9.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on January 11, 2010.
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. If not, proceed to step five.
Step five: Does the claimant have the residual functional capacity to perform any other work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. ...