United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
PAUL L. ABRAMS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff filed this action on November 27, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments. The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on December 13, 2013, and December 30, 2013. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation on October 24, 2014, that addresses their positions concerning the disputed issue in the case. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.
Plaintiff was born on November 3, 1968. [Administrative Record ("AR") at 131, 132.] He has past relevant work experience as an office manager and sales driver. [AR at 16, 254.]
On February 9, 2011, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, and on February 11, 2011, he filed an application for Supplemental Security Income payments. [AR at 131, 132.] In both applications, plaintiff alleged disability beginning on January 21, 2008. [AR at 10, 228, 233.] After his applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR at 151.] A hearing was held on September 18, 2012, at which time plaintiff appeared represented by an attorney, and testified on his own behalf. [AR at 25-60.] A vocational expert ("VE") and plaintiff's friend also testified. [AR at 51-55, 56-59.] On October 5, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was not under a disability since January 21, 2008, the alleged onset date, through October 5, 2012, the date of the decision. [AR at 10-18.] When plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision [AR at 5-6] was denied by the Appeals Council on September 20, 2013 [AR at 1-3], the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sam v. Astrue , 550 F.3d 808, 810 (9th Cir. 2008) (per curiam). This action followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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. Berry v. Astrue , 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010).
"Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Carmickle v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin. , 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715 , 720 (9th Cir. 1998) (same). 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. Mayes v. Massanari , 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001); see Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. , 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) ("[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision should be upheld." Ryan , 528 F.3d at 1198 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) ("If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion, [the reviewing court] may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.").
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 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. §§ 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 combination of impairments significantly limiting his ability to do basic work activities; if not, a finding of nondisability 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 his past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id . 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 this burden, ...