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 cross-motion is denied, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is reversed, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this order.
On July 26, 2001, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act), alleging disability beginning on June 14, 2001. (Transcript (Tr.) at 73-76.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. at 50-59.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. at 60-61.)
However, prior to the administrative hearing, on December 13, 2002, plaintiff again applied for SSI. (Tr. at 77-80.) Plaintiff's SSI claims were consolidated and a hearing was held before an ALJ on March 1, 2004, and a supplemental hearing was held on June 17, 2004. (Tr. at 489, 539.) Plaintiff was represented by a non-attorney representative and testified on her own behalf. The ALJ denied plaintiff's claims on December 15, 2004, (Tr. at 33), and the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision on July 20, 2006. (Tr. at 8.)
Plaintiff then sought judicial review by filing a complaint in federal court (2:06-cv-002016-KJM), but shortly thereafter, on September 26, 2006, plaintiff filed another application for SSI, which was granted at the initial level. (Tr. at 565.) The parties, therefore, stipulated to voluntary remand of the federal action with instructions to the ALJ to determine whether plaintiff should have been found disabled prior to September 26, 2006. (Tr. at 608-13.)
On June 11, 2008, the ALJ affirmed that plaintiff was disabled as of September 26, 2006, but found that plaintiff was not disabled prior to that date. (Tr. at 574-89.) On June 1, 2010, the Appeals Council remanded the case to a different ALJ for reconsideration. (Tr. at 632-36.)
Plaintiff and her counsel attended the administrative hearing on remand before the ALJ on October 6, 2010. (Tr. at 745.) In a decision issued on November 8, 2010, the ALJ found that plaintiff was disabled beginning on September 26, 2006, but not prior to that date. (Tr. at 562-71.) The ALJ entered the following findings:
1. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity at any time relevant to this decision (20 CFR §416.920(b) and §416.971).
2. During the period under adjudication, the claimant had the following severe impairment: rheumatoid arthritis (20 CFR §416.920(c)).
3. During the period under adjudication, the claimant did 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 §416.920(d)).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that during the time period under adjudication the claimant had the residual functional capacity to: lift less than 10 pounds frequently, but up to 20 pounds occasionally; sit, with regular breaks and a sit-stand option, for six to eight hours in an eight-hour day; stand or walk, with regular breaks and a sit-stand option, for two hours in an eight-hour work day; occasionally climb, kneel, stoop, crouch and crawl; occasionally push and pull with her upper extremities; and avoid forceful and repetitive gripping and twisting activities with her bilateral hands. This is consistent with a range of light work. Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. By definition a job is in this category when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls (20 CFR §404.1567(b)).
5. The claimant is able to perform her past relevant work as it is generally performed (20 CFR §416.965).
6. The claimant was 43 years old on the alleged onset date of disability. This is defined in the regulations as a younger individual (20 CFR §416.963).
7. The claimant has a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR §416.964).
8. The claimant has an unskilled and semi-skilled ...