The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Abramsunited States Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff filed this action on March 10, 2010, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments. The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on April 7, 2010, and April 9, 2010. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation on November 10, 2010, that addresses their positions concerning the disputed issues in the case. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.
Plaintiff was born on February 4, 1968. [Administrative Record ("AR") at 74.] She has a ninth grade education, and has past relevant work experience as an assembly worker and utility worker, among other things. [AR at 104-11, 145-46, 148.]
On January 12, 2005, plaintiff protectively filed her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments, alleging that she has been disabled since October 20, 2003, due to severe fatigue, Human Immunodeficiency Virus ("HIV"), depression, and fungal infection. [AR at 37, 74-78, 132, 144-45, 641-44.] After her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR at 33-34, 37-49.] A hearing was held on August 8, 2007, at which time plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified on her own behalf. A medical expert and a vocational expert also testified. [AR at 647-82.] On November 5, 2007, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled. [AR at 10-19.] The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision. [AR at 5-8.] On June 20, 2008, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court in Case No. ED CV 08-798-PLA, challenging the 2007 decision. [See AR at 686, 696.] On June 3, 2009, judgment was entered remanding the case to defendant for further proceedings. [See id.] On remand, a different ALJ held a hearing on September 30, 2009, at which time plaintiff appeared with counsel and again testified on her own behalf. Two medical experts, a vocational expert, and plaintiff's husband also testified. [AR at 847-87.] On December 17, 2009, the ALJ again determined that plaintiff was not disabled. [AR at 683-93.] This action followed.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).
In this context, the term "substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance -- it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion." Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; see also Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. When determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257; Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the decision of the Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1258.
IV. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
Persons are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS
The Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995, as amended April 9, 1996). In the first step, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting her ability to do basic work activities; if not, a finding of non-disability is made and the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments ("Listing") set forth at 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id. If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has sufficient "residual functional capacity" to perform her past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that she is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets this burden, a ...