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Achtschin v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 6, 2016

Elizabeth Achtschin, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.


          David G. Campbell United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Elizabeth Achtschin seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security which denied her disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Because Achtschin has not identified any reversible error, the Court will affirm.

         I. Background.

         Achtschin is a 61-year-old female who previously worked as a cashier, caregiver, and small business owner. A.R. 22. On January 28, 2014, Achtschin filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning October 31, 2013. A.R. 12. On April 7, 2015, an ALJ held a hearing on the application. A.R. 30-61. Achtschin appeared with her attorney and testified. A vocational expert also testified. Id.

         On August 3, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision that Achtschin was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. A.R. 12-24. The decision proceeded according to the five-step evaluation process set forth at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found that Achtschin met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2017, and that she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time between the alleged onset date and the date of decision. A.R. 13. At step two, the ALJ found that Achtschin had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder and polysubstance abuse disorder, in reported remission. A.R. 14. At step three, the ALJ determined that Achtschin did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled an impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. A.R. 14. At step four, the ALJ found that Achtschin had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform:

a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: she can understand, remember and carry out simple and repetitive tasks, make simple work-related decisions, occasionally interact with coworkers, supervisors and the public, within a routine work environment with few, if any, changes.

A.R. 16. The ALJ found Achtschin unable to perform any of her past relevant work. A.R. 22. At step five, the ALJ conclude that, considering Achtschin's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Achtschin could perform, including hand packager, salvage laborer, and kitchen helper. A.R. 23. The Appeals Council denied Achtschin's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. A.R. 3.

         II. Legal Standard.

         The district court reviews only those issues raised by the party challenging the ALJ's decision. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 517 n.13 (9th Cir. 2001). The court may set aside the Commissioner's disability determination only if the determination is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and relevant evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion considering the record as a whole. Id. In determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, the court must consider the record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a "specific quantum of supporting evidence." Id. As a general rule, "[w]here the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).

         III. Analysis.

         Achtschin argues that the ALJ (1) improperly discounted her credibility; (2) improperly discounted the opinion of treating psychiatrist Dr. Lisa Parsons; and (3) improperly adopted an RFC not presented to the vocational expert. Doc. 14 at 3.

         A. Symptom Testimony.

         In evaluating the credibility of a claimant's testimony regarding her symptoms, the ALJ is required to engage in a two-step analysis. First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant presented objective medical evidence of an impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms alleged. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). Second, if there is no evidence of malingering, the ALJ may reject the claimant's testimony only by giving specific, clear, and convincing reasons. Id.

         Achtschin reported that her mental impairments, including bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and anxiety, caused marked limitations that would render her unable to perform even sedentary work on a regular and continuing basis. A.R. 17. The ALJ determined that Achtschin's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, but that her statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects ...

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