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 payment of benefits for the closed period of August 23, 2003, to January 1, 2007.
Plaintiff Nafis Rashadeem was born on March 5, 1961, and was forty-five years old on the date that his alleged period of disability expired. [Administrative Record ("AR") 63, 423.] He has two years of college education and past relevant work experience as an automobile salesperson, technical support and construction worker. [AR 374, 465-466.] Plaintiff alleges disability on the basis of a stroke, sleep apnea and obesity. [AR 374.]
Plaintiff applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") on June 10, 2004, alleging disability since August 23, 2003. [AR 423.] After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on March 8, 2006, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR 371.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and testimony was taken from Plaintiff and vocational expert Mr. Hatokeyama. [AR 372.] The ALJ denied benefits in a decision dated April 12, 2006. [AR 338-45.] On October 4, 2006, the Appeals Council remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. [AR 356-57.] A second administrative hearing was held on January 22, 2007. [AR 394.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and testimony was taken from Plaintiff. [AR 395.] The ALJ denied benefits in a decision dated March 13, 2007. [AR 12-21.] When the Appeals Council denied review on May 29, 2007, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 7.]
Plaintiff filed a complaint in the district court on July 26, 2007 (Case No. CV 07-4766 CW). On April 15, 2008, the court issued a decision and order remanding the matter for further administrative proceedings.
A third administrative hearing was held on January 26, 2009, before a new ALJ. [AR 455.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and testimony was taken from Plaintiff and vocational expert June Hagen. [AR 456.] Because Plaintiff had resumed working on January 1, 2007, Plaintiff amended his application to a closed period of disability from August 23, 2003, to January 1, 2007. [AR 450.] The ALJ denied benefits in a decision dated March 26, 2009. [AR 420.]
The present complaint was lodged on October 14, 2009, and filed on October 15, 2009. On June 10, 2010, Defendant filed an Answer and Plaintiff's Administrative Record ("AR"). On September 21, 2010, 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.
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, ...