The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jean Rosenbluth U.S. Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER
Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). This matter is before the Court on the parties' Joint Stipulation, filed January 19, 2012. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this action is dismissed.
Plaintiff was born on November 17, 1959. (Administrative Record ("AR") 118.) He has an 11th-grade education. (AR 126.) He claims to have been disabled since January 1, 1999, from injuries sustained when he was shot in the neck during a carjacking. (AR 126, 141, 162-63.)
On March 6, 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI. (AR 108-13.) After Plaintiff's application was denied, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on August 27, 2009. (AR 28-40.) Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified on his own behalf. (Id.) On October 13, 2009, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim, determining that he had the severe impairments of "degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis in the lumbar spine, status post gunshot wound in left scapular area, status post thoracotomy/sternotomy and chest tubes, left shoulder pain, atypical chest pain, and posttraumatic stress disorder" (AR 21) but was not disabled because he had the residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn1 to perform "light work . . . with the following limitations: right hand dominant with left, non-dominant upper extremity limited to occasional reaching overhead or laterally; avoid environments where speech is a critical factor; ability to work with public and adapt to normal workplace stressors; some difficulty with change as long as not drastic changes" (AR 22). The ALJ found, based on the Vocational Expert ("VE")'s testimony, that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform the job of "office helper." (AR 26.) On January 20, 2011, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1-4.) This action followed.
Plaintiff raises one disputed issue: whether the ALJ properly determined that Plaintiff could perform alternative work activity. (J. Stip. at 4.)
Pursuant to 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 are supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing 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." Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Id. at 720-21.
IV. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
People are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity owing to a severe 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 12 months.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).
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. § 416.920(a)(4); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995) (as amended Apr. 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not 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 his ability to do basic work activities; if not, a finding of non-disability is made and the claim is denied. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). 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 RFC to perform his past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the burden of proving that he is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets that burden, a prima facie case of disability is established. Id. If ...