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Smithee v. Social Security Administration

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

June 26, 2018



         I. Introduction:

         On August 24, 2015, LaDonna Smithee applied for supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability beginning on September 1, 2015. (Tr. at 19) Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied her application. (Tr. at 37) Ms. Smithee requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision, but that request was denied. (Tr. at 1) Therefore, the ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Ms. Smithee filed this case seeking judicial review of the decision denying her benefits.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Ms. Smithee had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of September 1, 2015. (Tr. at 21) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Smithee had the following severe impairments: borderline intellectual functioning, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, peripheral neuropathy, systemic lupus erythrematosus, and other arthropathies. (Tr. at 22)

         After finding that Ms. Smithee's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 23), the ALJ determined that Ms. Smithee had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at the light exertional level, with some limitations. She could climb ramps and stairs occasionally, but could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (Tr. at 29) She could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Id. She could never work at unprotected heights or around moving mechanical parts. Id. Mentally, she would be limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks, but could make simple work-related decisions. Id. She could work where supervision is simple and direct. Id. She could have only incidental interpersonal contact with co-workers and the public. Id.

         The ALJ found that Ms. Smithee was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. at 35) At step five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find, based on Ms. Smithee's age, education, work experience and RFC, that she was capable of performing work in the national economy as price tagger, which is light, unskilled work, with an SVP of 2. (Tr. at 36) The ALJ determined, therefore, that Ms. Smithee was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence” in this context means “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009)(citation omitted). In making this determination, the Court must consider not only evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision, but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse the decision, however, “merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

         B. Ms. Smithee's Arguments on Appeal

         In this appeal, Ms. Smithee contends that the ALJ's decision to deny benefits is not supported by substantial evidence. She argues that the ALJ erred by not finding her coronary artery disease to be a severe impairment. She asserts that the RFC provides for work that is beyond her functional capacity and that the ALJ erred by not including borderline intellectual functioning in the hypothetical posed to the VE. Finally, she contends that the Appeals Council erred by not considering records from Dr. Dickson.

         The ALJ found, at step two, that Ms. Smithee's coronary artery disease was not a severe impairment. (Tr. at 22) The record shows that Ms. Smithee presented to Barry Tedder, M.D., in January 2015, complaining of shortness of breath. (Tr. at 344) Dr. Tedder diagnosed lupus and hyperlipidemia. (Tr. at 347) He ordered an echocardiogram and counseled Ms. Smithee on exercise and diet. (Tr. at 347)

         The echocardiogram showed a ventrical ejection fraction of 60-65%, which is within normal range. (Tr. at 371-372) The aortic and mitral valve were normal in structure and function. (Tr. at 372) Ventricular systolic pressure was normal. Id. Normal examination findings such as these do not indicate that a ...

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