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 March 13, 2008, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act), alleging disability beginning on December 31, 2007 due to a brain tumor, a herniated disc, heart disease and hypertension. (Transcript ("Tr.") at 118-121, 129-30.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially on July 11, 2008, and upon reconsideration on October 20, 2008. (Id. at 81-90.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on September 9, 2009. (Id. at 39-73.) Plaintiff was represented by a non-attorney representative and testified at the administrative hearing. In a decision issued on December 8, 2009, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 30-38.) The ALJ entered the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2011.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2007, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: the claimant is status post brain surgery in 1995, and status post right hip hemiarthroplasty in December 2008. (20 CFR 404.1520(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 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c), from her alleged onset date of December 31, 2007 to December 17, 2008, when she is limited to light exertion based upon her right hip fracture.
6. The claimant is capable of performing her past relevant work as a security manager. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from December 31, 2007 through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f)). (Id. at 13-18.)
On May 11, 2010, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 1-5.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on July 9, 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. ...