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Branch v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas

November 26, 2014

Renee Michelle Branch Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant.

Recommended Disposition

JEROME T. KEARNEY, Magistrate Judge.


The following recommended disposition was prepared for U.S. District Judge James M. Moody, Jr. A party to this dispute may file written objections to this recommendation. An objection must be specific and state the factual and/or legal basis for the objection. An objection to a factual finding must identify the finding and the evidence supporting the objection. Objections must be filed with the clerk of the court no later than 14 days from the date of this recommendation.[1] The objecting party must serve the opposing party with a copy of an objection. Failing to object within 14 days waives the right to appeal questions of fact.[2] If no objections are filed, Judge Moody may adopt the recommended disposition without independently reviewing all of the record evidence.

Reasoning for Recommended Disposition

Renee Michelle Branch seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for supplemental security income (SSI).[3] Branch first applied for SSI in September 2007.[4] After the application was denied, [5] Branch worked at nursing home as a certified nursing assistant.[6] She says she stopped working on October 31, 2008 because of back pain.[7] She then reapplied for SSI.[8] She based her claim on her back, degenerative disc disease, asthma, problems with the left knee, depression, and her weight.[9] She claims she has been disabled since she stopped working at age 26.

The Commissioner's decision. Initially, the Commissioner's ALJ denied the application, [10] but on judicial review, the district court determined the ALJ failed to properly assess Branch's credibility and remanded the case.[11] The ALJ then obtained updated evidence, [12] conducted a second hearing, [13] and issued a second unfavorable decision, providing reasons for discounting Branch's credibility.[14]

In the second decision, the ALJ determined that Branch has severe impairments - degenerative joint disease/degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, scoliosis, obesity, hypertension, migraines, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and learning disorder[15] - but she can do some sedentary work.[16] Because a vocational expert identified available sedentary work, [17] the ALJ determined Branch is not disabled and denied the application.[18]

After the Appeals Council denied review, [19] the ALJ's second decision became the Commissioner's final decision for the purpose of judicial review.[20] Branch filed this case to challenge the decision.[21] In reviewing the decision, the court must determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the ALJ made a legal error.[22] This recommendation explains why substantial evidence supports the decision and why the ALJ made no legal error.

Branch's allegations. Branch challenges the ALJ's decision that she can work. She relies primarily on mental impairment. She contends she meets listing 12.05C (a listing for intellectual disability) because she has a qualifying IQ score plus and an additional physical and mental impairment.[23] She says, that instead of objectively reviewing the evidence, the ALJ searched the record "for any reason to deny benefits." For these reasons, she maintains substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision.[24]

Applicable legal principles. For substantial evidence to support the decision, a reasonable mind must accept the evidence as adequate to show Branch can do some sedentary work.[25] Sedentary work "involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools."[26] Sedentary work "represents a significantly restricted range of work. Individuals who are limited to no more than sedentary work by their medical impairments have very serious functional limitations."[27]

The ALJ placed the following limitations on sedentary work:

(1) occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling;
(2) occasional overhead work/reaching;
(3) no concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, ...

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