Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act. The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment motions are pending. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants plaintiff's motion, denies the Commissioner's motion and remands the case for further proceedings.
Plaintiff, born July 29, 1960, formally applied for DIB on January 30, 2004, alleging that he had been disabled since December 3, 2003. Administrative Record ("AR") 12, 18, 574. Plaintiff's application was denied, and he appealed the decision. Id. at 574. A federal district court remanded the case for further proceedings. Id. On remand, a hearing was held before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Peter F. Belli on August 24, 2009. Id. at 574, 582. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing, at which he and a vocational expert (VE) testified. Id. at 574.
The ALJ's March 2, 2010 decision found that plaintiff was not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability through the date of the decision.*fn1 Id. at 574-82. The ALJ made the following specific findings:
1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2007.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of December 3, 2003 through this date last insured of December 31, 2007 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant has the following severe impairments: bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, bilateral hand osteoarthritis, posttraumatic left median neuropathy, right knee Baker's cyst, right shoulder impingement syndrome, major depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (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 has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that he was limited to lifting and carrying from 5 pounds frequently to 10 pounds occasionally in the right hand, no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds, occasional stooping, crouching, crawling, and kneeling, and frequent fine and gross manipulations. Additionally, the claimant was moderately limited in his capacity to interact appropriately with the public, respond appropriately to work pressures in a usual work setting, and to changes in routine work settings.
*** 6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was capable to performing past relevant work as an electromechanical technician. This work did not require the performance of work related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from December 2, 2003, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2007, the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).
The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Id. at 571-73.
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 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); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (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 more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521 (9th Cir. 1996). "'It means such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).
"The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). "Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in: finding that his impairments were not continuously severe and disabling for twelve months; giving little weight to his physicians' opinions regarding his physical and mental impairments; finding that his testimony was not credible; and finding that he retained the RFC to perform his past relevant work.
A. The ALJ Did Not Err in Noting that the Evidence as to the Persistence of Severity of Plaintiff's Impairments for a Continuous 12-Month Period Was Unconvincing.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ found that plaintiff's upper extremity limitations and mental impairments were not disabling for any continuous 12-month period, and that this finding was ...