The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Abrams United States Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff filed this action on September 17, 2010, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income payments. The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on September 29, 2010, and October 1, 2010. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on March 28, 2011, 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 July 17, 1960. [Administrative Record ("AR") at 16, 43.] He obtained a GED; went to trade schools for welding, construction, and electrician training; and has past relevant work experience as an electrician apprentice, truck driver, and welder. [AR at 14, 47, 49, 58-59, 63-64, 66-67.]
On June 4, 2008, plaintiff protectively filed his application for Supplemental Security Income payments, alleging that he has been unable to work since April 13, 2005, due to, among other things, back injury, deteriorating spinal cord, left hand numbness, and high blood pressure. [AR at 11, 16, 18, 43-46, 57-65.] After plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR at 18-23, 26-31.] A hearing was held on March 8, 2010, at which time plaintiff's counsel appeared, but plaintiff did not. The ALJ found plaintiff to be "an unnecessary witness" and decided the matter on the record without receiving any testimony.*fn1 [See AR at 11, 122-25.] On April 5, 2010, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled. [AR at 8-15.] When the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision on August 25, 2010, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. [AR at 3-6.] 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 ...