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 denied, defendant's motion is granted, and the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is affirmed.
On June 23, 2005, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act), alleging disability beginning on August 16, 1997. (Transcript (Tr.) at 120-26.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially on November 4, 2005, and upon reconsideration on August 15, 2007. (Id. at 98, 110.)
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and an administrative hearing was held before an ALJ on February 5, 2008. (Id. at 463-504.) In a decision issued June 16, 2008, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 53-60.)
Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision and on October 16, 2008, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's June 16, 2008 decision and remanded the case. (Id. at 46-49.) On April 7, 2009, another hearing was held before an ALJ. (Id. at 505-46.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the administrative hearing. In a decision issued on June 15, 2009, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 14-33.) The ALJ entered the following findings:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 23, 2005, the date the application was protectively filed
(20 CFR 404.1520(b) and 404.1571 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, degenerative joint disease with osteoarthritis in the bilateral knees, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, major depression and morbid obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
3. 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).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b).
5. The claimant has no past relevant work history (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on October 25, 1962, and was 42 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed. (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. The claimant has no past relevant work history (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
9. 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 the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.969 and 416.969a).
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since June 23, 2005, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)). (Id. at 18-33.)
On June 18, 2010, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's June 15, 2009 decision. (Id. at 3-5.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on August 13, 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. ...