Browning v. Colvin: A Harsh Look at One Denial of Benefits

Browning v. Colvin, an appeal heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, involved a woman who had applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The United States Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees the SSI program. As our SSI attorneys in Boston can explain, SSI benefits are available to low-income individuals who are elderly, blind, or permanently disabled regardless of work history.

money-problems.jpgClaimant’s application for SSI benefits was denied by the administrative law judge (ALJ) employed by the SSA. Claimant appealed the denial.

In Browning, claimant was 25 years of age and filed for SSI benefits due to the fact that she was intellectually disabled and suffered from knee and hip problems. Her joint disease was a result of a childhood illness known as Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease.

Her intellectual disability was first noticed when she failed kindergarten. She was officially diagnosed with having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and being “mildly retarded.” She was in special education classes through high school. While she could not pass the state test required to graduate, she was given a waiver due her disability and allowed to graduate with the rest of her class.

This is significant, according the Court of Appeals, because the ALJ’s finding that she has a high school education is misleading. This is further evidenced by the fact that she was able to read at a kindergarten level at the time of the hearing.

A psychologist administered an IQ test to the claimant in 2007 (when she turned 18), and her score was a 68. According to court records, only 2.3 percent of the United States Population has an IQ score less than 70. This psychologist gave the opinion that she was more intelligent than her IQ score would lead one to believe and stated that claimant could work in a typical work environment.

Another psychologist examined claimant and said she could work part-time in a sheltered environment. The appellate judge wrote that this is a euphemism for work that the job market would not consider productive.

At her benefits hearing, claimant testified that she used a wheelchair in high school, lives at home with her mother, can only read small words, cannot obtain a driver’s license because she cannot pass the written test, and is severely obese.

Psychologists testified that her sarcastic nature showed that she was more intelligent that initially perceived. The examples they gave, according the appellate court, seemed like she was making meaningful statements and not trying to be funny. The appellate court further noted that chimpanzees have been shown to be capable of sarcasm, so even if the psychologist’s opinions were correct, they had no bearing on her ability to work.

In a fashion similar to other opinions drafted by Judge Posner, the court found many errors committed by the ALJ in denying benefits to the claimant. While it is refreshing to hear an honest assessment of the nature in which many claims for SSI and SSDI benefits are summarily denied, it does highlight many of the problems faced by SSI and SSDI claimants on a regular basis.

If you are seeking Social Security Disability benefits in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.

Additional Resources:

Browning v. Colvin
, September 4, 2014, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
More Blog Entries:

SSDI Approvals Lowest in Five Years, June 20, 2014, Boston Social Security Disability Lawyers Blog

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