Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, denies the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and remands the case for further proceedings.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
Plaintiff, Michael Stanley, filed an application for supplemental security income on May 11, 2007, alleging that he had been disabled since November 1, 2006. Administrative Record ("AR") 50, 83, 100. Plaintiff's application was initially denied on September 10, 2007, and upon reconsideration on November 29, 2007. Id. at 53, 60. On November 4, 2008, a hearing was held before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Mark C. Ramsey. Id. at 11. Plaintiff, who was represented by attorney Peter Brixie, testified at the hearing. Id. at 20-49.
On March 6, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was
not disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act.*fn1
Id. at 13, 19. The ALJ made the following specific findings:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 11, 2007, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: gout, hypertension, left eye blindness, obesity, antisocial personality disorder, and schizophrenia (20 CFR 416.921 et seq). ...
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c). He is unable to perform jobs that require vision in two eyes. He is limited to simple unskilled work that does not involve frequent public or fellow employee contact. ...
5. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a kitchen helper and dishwasher. This work does not require the performance of work related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 416.965). ...
6. The claimant has not been under disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since May 11, 2007, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(f)). Id. at 13-18.
Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. Id. at 5-7. However, on February 5, 2010, the Appeals Council denied review, leaving the ALJ's decision as the "final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security." Id. at 2.
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 ...