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 and disability insurance benefits. As discussed below, the court finds that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings consistent with this decision and order.
Plaintiff Dorothy L. Crisp was born on November 17, 1953, and was fifty-one years old on the alleged disability onset date [Administrative Record, "AR," 94.] She has a law degree and past relevant work experience as an attorney. [AR 16.] Plaintiff alleges disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") stemming from a sexual assault. [AR 123.]
II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT
Plaintiff's complaint was lodged on September 14, 2010, and filed on September 15, 2010. On March 18, 2011, defendant filed an answer and plaintiff's Administrative Record ("AR"). On May 23, 2011, 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") on February 17, 2006, alleging disability since August 16, 2005. [AR 94.] She met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2009. [AR 13.] After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on September 22, 2008, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Mary L. Eversine. [AR 22-43.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified [AR 24-35]; the ALJ also heard the testimony of vocational expert ("VE") Elizabeth Cerezo [AR 35-41]. The ALJ denied benefits in a decision dated October 16, 2008. [AR 11-18.] When the Appeals Council denied review on July 28, 2010, 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, ...