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Arellano v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 25, 2018

SUSANNA ARELLANO, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES F. EICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint on July 10, 2017, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on April 13, 2018. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on May 11, 2018. The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See L.R. 7-15; "Order, " filed July 20, 2017.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2013, Plaintiff, a former "healthcare administrator, " filed an application for benefits alleging disability since August 19, 2006 (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 20, 206-28, 234). This application followed a previous administrative denial of benefits. See id. At the outset of her most recent administrative application, Plaintiff alleged that only physical impairments limited her ability to work. See A.R. 233. Plaintiff did not then allege that any mental impairments limited her ability to work. See id.

         Later, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") examined the record and heard testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (A.R. 20-201, 206-417, 421-1682). The ALJ found Plaintiff has certain severe physical impairments but no severe mental impairments (A.R. 23-25). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work (A.R. 26-30). In reliance on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that a person having this residual functional capacity can perform Plaintiff's past relevant work as a “healthcare administrator” as that work is generally performed (A.R. 30-31, 66-68). Accordingly, the ALJ denied disability benefits (A.R. 31). The Appeals Council denied review (A.R. 1-3). /// /// /// ///

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), this court reviews the Administration's decision to determine if: (1) the Administration's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Administration used correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); see also Brewes v. Commissioner, 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and quotations omitted); see also Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006).

If the evidence can support either outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. But the Commissioner's decision cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Rather, a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [administrative] conclusion.

Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citations and quotations omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         After consideration of the record as a whole, Defendant's motion is granted and Plaintiff's motion is denied. The Administration's findings are supported by substantial evidence and are free from material[1] legal error.

         A social security claimant bears the burden of "showing that a physical or mental impairment prevents [her] from engaging in any of [her] previous occupations." Sanchez v. Secretary, 812 F.2d 509, 511 (9th Cir. 1987); accord Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). Plaintiff must prove her impairments prevented her from working for twelve continuous months. See Krumpelman v. Heckler, 767 F.2d 586, 589 (9th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1025 (1986). Substantial evidence supports the conclusion that Plaintiff failed to carry her burden in this case.

         The nature and extent of Plaintiff's admitted activities supports the conclusion Plaintiff can work. Plaintiff's admitted activities include helping care for her four-year-old grandson, meeting with board members of her former employer, looking for grants for the funding of her organization,, organizing paperwork, calling friends, using her computer, cooking, jarring herbal teas with a friend and (during part of the period of claimed disability) taking college courses (A.R. 62-64, 1640, 1644-45). The performance of such activities bears on a claimant's capacity to work. See, e.g., Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1998); Gonzalez v. Harris, 631 F.2d 143, 146 (1980); see also Chavez v. Department of Health and Human Services, 103 F.3d 849, 853 (9th Cir. 1996) (ability to attend school may betray an ability to work).

         Plaintiff also admittedly sought employment during the period of claimed disability (A.R. 1644). A disability claimant's search for employment during the period of claimed disability can undermine the claim. See Copeland v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 536, 542 (9th Cir. 1988) (upholding ALJ's rejection of claimant's credibility where claimant had accepted unemployment insurance benefits "apparently considering himself capable of work and holding himself out as available for work"); Bray v. Commissioner of Social Security Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1227 (9th Cir. 2009) (fact that a claimant has sought out employment weighs against a finding of disability); see also Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1165 (9th Cir. 2014) ("continued receipt" of unemployment benefits can cast doubt on a claim of disability); ...


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