The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Abrams United States Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff filed this action on January 4, 2012, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income payments. The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on January 12, 2012, and January 18, 2012. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation on August 27, 2012, 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 October 8, 1963. [Administrative Record ("AR") at 87-88.] She has a tenth grade education [AR at 234], but no past relevant work experience. [AR at 53, 70, 82.]*fn1
On July 31, 2008, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income, alleging that she has been unable to work since January 1, 1997, due to depression, pain in her arm and hand, and carpal tunnel syndrome. [AR at 87-88, 215-16, 229-35, 289-95.] After her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR at 92-96, 99-103, 107.] A hearing was held on May 4, 2010, at which time plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified on her own behalf. [AR at 65-86.] A vocational expert also testified. [AR at 81-84.] On August 30, 2010, a supplemental hearing (at which plaintiff again appeared with counsel) was started, but was continued after a medical expert reported that he was unable to read the treatment notes of plaintiff's treating psychiatrist. [AR at 14, 61-64.] On January 19, 2011, the hearing which had been continued on August 30, 2010, resumed, at which time plaintiff again appeared with counsel and testified on her own behalf. [AR at 30-60.] In addition, the medical expert who appeared at the August 30, 2010, proceeding, and a second vocational expert, testified. [AR at 45-60.] On February 12, 2011, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled. [AR at 14-24.] On December 2, 2011, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. [AR at 1-3, 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 both adverse and 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. § 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 ...