The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carla M. Woehrle United States Magistrate Judge
The parties have consented, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's denial of disability benefits. As discussed below, the court finds that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and this matter remanded for further proceedings.
Plaintiff Tammy Barrera was born on December 12, 1964, and was forty-three years old at the time of her last administrative hearing. [Administrative Record ("AR") 64, 143.] She has a high school education and past relevant work experience as an executive administrative secretary. [AR 18.] Plaintiff alleges disability on the basis of bipolar disorder. [AR 86.]
II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT
Plaintiff's complaint was lodged on September 29, 2008, and filed on October 14, 2008. On April 22, 2009, Defendant filed an Answer and Plaintiff's Administrative Record ("AR"). On June 19, 2009, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation ("JS") identifying matters not in dispute, issues in dispute, the positions of the parties, and the relief sought by each party. This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.
III. PRIOR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS
Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act on December 14, 2005, alleging disability since October 4, 2005. [AR 11.] After the application was denied initially, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on November 5, 2007, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Helen E. Hesse. [AR 21.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and testimony was taken from Plaintiff, medical expert Craig Rath, and vocational expert Steven Berry. [AR 22.] A supplemental hearing was held on April 21, 2008. [AR 64.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. [AR 65.] The ALJ denied benefits in a decision filed on July 25, 2008. [AR 11-20.] When the Appeals Council denied review on September 19, 2008, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 1-3.]
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's (or ALJ's) findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. However, if the court determines that a finding is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the court may reject the finding and set aside the decision to deny benefits. See Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2001); Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995)(per curiam). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. It is "relevant evidence which a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, a court must review the administrative record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720-721; see also Osenbrock, 240 F.3d at 1162.
A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION
To be eligible for disability benefits a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable impairment which prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity and which is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Tackett, ...