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 insurance benefits. For the reasons stated below, the Magistrate Judge finds that judgment should be granted in favor of Defendant, affirming the Commissioner's decision.
Plaintiff David S. Rerkphuritat was born on July 1, 1955, and was fifty-four years old at the time of his administrative hearing. [Administrative Record ("AR") 79-80.] He has at least a high school education and past work experience as a dialysis technician. [AR 18-19.]
Plaintiff alleges disability due to back, shoulder and neck pain. [AR 115.]
II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT
On September 8, 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
On October 24, 2007, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning August 24, 2006. [AR 12, 81.] After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on August 29, 2009, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Joel B. Martinez. [AR 20.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and testimony was taken from Plaintiff and vocational expert ("VE") Rita Barron-King. [AR 20.] The ALJ denied benefits in an administrative decision dated October 15, 2009. [AR 12-19.] When the Appeals Council denied review on August 20, 2010, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 1-3.] This action followed.
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, 180 F.3d at 1098; Reddick, 157 F.3d at 721; 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Disability claims are evaluated using a five-step test:
Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. ...