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Simmons v. Social Security Administration

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

October 11, 2018


         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Bobbi Jean Simmons (“Simmons”), applied for disability benefits on April 13, 2016, alleging a disability onset date of August 19, 2015. (Tr. at 16). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (AALJ) denied her application. (Tr. at 25). The Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr. at 1). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Simmons has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] reverses the ALJ's decision and remands for further review.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Simmons had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of August 19, 2015. (Tr. at 18). The ALJ found, at Step Two of the sequential five-step analysis, that Simmons has the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis of the knee, asthma, and myasthenia gravis. Id.

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Simmons's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr. at 19). Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Simmons had the residual functional capacity (ARFC@) to perform light work except that: 1) she can only occasionally kneel, crouch, and crawl; 2) she cannot perform lower extremity foot control operations; 3) she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; 4) she should be allowed to sit and stand at will while performing work duties; 5) she should be allowed to use a cane as necessary to access the work station area on level ground; and 6) she should have no concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, and gases. (Tr. at 19).

         The ALJ found Simmons was capable of performing past relevant work as an apartment manager. (Tr. at 23). In the alternative, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert ("VE") to find that, based on Simmons's age, education, work experience and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Simmons is capable of performing. (Tr. at 24). Based on that determination, the ALJ held that Simmons 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 less than a preponderance but more than a scintilla. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). In other words, it is “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Id. (citation omitted). 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) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).

         B. Simmons's Arguments on Appeal

         Simmons argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. She contends that: 1) the ALJ erred in his RFC determination; and 2) the ALJ should have given more weight to the opinion of Ronald Hollis, M.D., Simmons' treating doctor. The Court agrees with Simmons and finds that remand is proper.

         Simmons focuses her argument on her knee condition. She had a left patella dislocation in 1992 and underwent a placement of two screws in April 2006. (Tr. at 334-339). In February 2014, Timothy Krahn, M.D., an orthopedist, saw Simmons for chronic pain and discomfort in the left knee, which was worsening to the point of affecting her everyday activities. (Tr. at 435-440). An x-ray revealed severe arthritis in the knee with bone-to-bone contact. Id. Dr. Krahn diagnosed advanced degenerative arthritis with mild extensor lag. Id. Dr. Krahn said “there is no question she has advanced patellofemoral arthritis which obviously cannot be cured with any type of arthroscopic procedure.” (Tr. at 436). He said knee replacement was not advisable because of Simmons' young age. (Tr. at 435-436).

         In December 2013, Simmons began treating with Dr. Hollis for left knee osteoarthritis. (Tr. at 462-465). He prescribed narcotic pain medications. Id. A nerve conduction study in April 2015 revealed moderate sensory polyneuropathy in the lower extremities. (Tr. at 416). Also in April 2015, Dr. Hollis read an x-ray of the knee and diagnosed Simmons with advanced degenerative changes with possible new fractures. (Tr. at 446-451). He prescribed crutches and pain management. Id. In April 2015, Dr. Krahn placed Simmons in a knee immobilizer because of a distal pole patellar fracture. (Tr. at 434). In June 2015, Dr. Krahn found weakness in the left knee and put Simmons in a drop-lock knee brace and recommended physical therapy. (Tr. at 432).

         Simmons reported to Dr. Hollis in January 2016 that she had severe difficulty walking and all-over body pain. (Tr. at 442-450). He continued her on pain medication, and he started her on prednisone in June 2016. (Tr. at 452-461). In December 2016, ...

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