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Bench v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

July 1, 2016

Sandra Ellen Bench, Plainitff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          Sandra E Bench, Plaintiff, represented by Laura J. McKinnon, McKinnon Law Firm.

          Social Security Administration, Defendant, represented by Stacey Elise McCord, U.S. Attorney's Office & Stuart G. Lipke, Social Security Administration.


          J. THOMAS RAY, Magistrate Judge.


         The following recommended disposition was prepared for U.S. District Judge Susan W. Wright. 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 Wright may adopt the recommended disposition without independently reviewing all of the record evidence.

         Reasoning for Recommended Disposition

         Sandra Ellen Bench seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for social security disability benefits.[3] Bench's last full-time job was at a fast food restaurant.[4] She applied for disability benefits after being terminated.[5] She based disability on osteoarthritis, diabetes, obesity, back pain, ulcers, an enlarged heart, high blood pressure, and swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet.[6]

         The Commissioner's decision. After considering the application, the ALJ identified severe impairments: musculoskeletal disorder (back disorder, lumbar spine degenerative joint disease, and osteoarthritis), musculoskeletal disorder (degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis/tenosynovitis in both knees), endocrine disorder (diabetes mellitus with lower extremity edema), obesity, mental disorder (mood disorder, depression), and mental disorder (personality disorder not otherwise specified).[7] The ALJ determined the impairments limit Bench to unskilled sedentary work.[8] After consulting a vocational expert, the ALJ determined jobs exist that Bench can do.[9] The ALJ concluded that Bench is not disabled and denied the application.[10]

         After the Appeals Council denied review, [11] the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision for the purpose of judicial review.[12] Bench filed this case to challenge the decision.[13]

         Bench argues that the ALJ erred: (1) in evaluating her credibility; and (2) in assessing her RFC. For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that Bench's second argument has merit.

         When reviewing a decision denying an application for disability benefits, the court must determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the ALJ made a legal error.[14] For substantial evidence to exist, a reasonable mind must accept the evidence as adequate to support the determination that Bench can do unskilled sedentary work.[15]

         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."[16] The ALJ excluded climbing, kneeling, crouching, and crawling, and limited balancing and stooping. The ALJ required work involving simple, routine, repetitive tasks; incidental interpersonal contact with coworkers and supervisors; no contact with public; and simple, direct, concrete supervision.[17]

         After determining Bench's ability to work, the ALJ questioned a vocational expert about available work. The vocational expert identified assembler and production worker as available jobs.[18] Bench claims the ALJ should have obtained supplemental vocational evidence.

         Notably, the ALJ's RFC did not preclude Bench from reaching.[19] However, after the administrative hearing, Bench underwent a consultative physical examination from Dr. John Dobbs. Among other things, Dr. Dobbs completed a "Medical Source Statement" limiting Bench from any reaching.[35] Dr. Dobbs wrote that Bench's "bad knees" supported the reaching limitation.[36] In his decision, the ALJ discounted Dr. Dobbs' reaching limitation because it was "not supported by objective findings[.]"[19] Moreover, the VE was not asked any ...

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