United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
JEROME T. KEARNEY, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Latha Frazier brings this action for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). After reviewing the administrative record and the arguments of the parties, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Ms. Frazier protectively filed her application for supplemental security income on October 20, 2006, alleging a disability onset date of July 17, 2006. (R. at 38.) She alleged complications from a liver disease, vocal cord impairment, depression, anxiety, thyroid and cervical cancer, and short-term memory loss. (R. at 176.) The Social Security Administration denied Ms. Frazier's claim at the initial and reconsideration levels. (R. at 38.) On September 28, 2009, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on this matter. (R. at 38.) On November 19, 2009, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, denying Ms. Frazier's claim. (R. at 47.) The Appeals Council subsequently denied her request for review. (R. at 22.)
On April 15, 2014, after the Appeals Council apparently did not serve Ms. Frazier properly with the notice of its decision for three years, she filed a timely complaint against the Commissioner, appealing the ALJ's denial of DIB. (Pl.'s Compl. 1, ECF No. 2.) On April 30, 2014, the parties consented to a Magistrate Judge having jurisdiction to issue a final judgment in this case. (Consent 1, ECF No. 4.) Both parties have submitted appeals briefs for the Court to consider. (Pl.'s Br., ECF No. 13; Def.'s Br., ECF No. 14.)
II. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS
Ms. Frazier was forty-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing and had completed high school. (R. at 75-76.) The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process to Ms. Frazier's claim. (R. at 39.) The ALJ found that Ms. Frazier satisfied the first step because she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity. (R. at 40.) At step two, the ALJ found that Ms. Frazier suffered from the severe medical impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), vocal cord paralysis, status post thyroidectomy due to multinodular goiter, headaches, a major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder, and polysubstance abuse in partial remission. (R. at 40.) At step three, the ALJ found that Ms. Frazier did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appx. 1. (R. at 42.) Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Ms. Frazier had a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work with certain non-exertional limitations. (R. at 42.) She found that Ms. Frazier should "avoid concentrated exposure [to] extreme cold, extreme heat, fumes, odors, dust, gases and poor ventilation." (R. at 42.) The ALJ also restricted Ms. Frazier to simple, repetitive work. (R. at 42.) The ALJ determined that Ms. Frazier's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not credible because they were not consistent with the record as a whole. (R. at 43.) The ALJ found at step four that Ms. Frazier was capable of performing her past relevant work as a certified nurse's aid. (R. at 45.) Alternatively, the ALJ determined at step five that the there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Ms. Frazier could perform, such as a companion, hostess, sales attendant, assembler, and receptionist. (R. at 46.)
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court's limited function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and free of legal error. Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is "less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind might accept it as adequate to support a decision." Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206-07 (8th Cir. 1998) (citing Lawrence v. Chater, 107 F.3d 674, 676 (8th Cir. 1997)). The Commissioner's decision cannot be reversed merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision. Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2004). However, "[t]he substantial evidence test employed in reviewing administrative findings is more than a mere search of the record for evidence supporting the [Commissioner's] findings." Gavin v. Heckler, 811 F.2d 1195, 1199 (8th Cir. 1987). "Substantial evidence on the record as a whole'... requires a more scrutinizing analysis." Id. (quoting Smith v. Heckler, 735 F.2d 312, 315 (8th Cir. 1984)). "In reviewing the administrative decision, [t]he substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.'" Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951)).
Ms. Frazier argues that the ALJ's decision to deny her DIB is not supported by substantial evidence. (Pl.'s Compl. 20, ECF No. 13.) Specifically, Ms. Frazier argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's determination at step three that Ms. Frazier did not meet listing 3.02(A). (Id. ). Ms. Frazier also argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's RFC assessment that Ms. Frazier could perform medium work. (Id. at 25.) As such, Ms. Frazier argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's determination at step four that Ms. Frazier could return to her past relevant work. (Id. ). Ms. Frazier argues at step five that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's alternative finding because the ALJ asked the wrong hypothetical questions to the vocational expert ("VE"). (Id. at 28.)
A. STEP THREE
Ms. Frazier argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision at step three that Ms. Frazier did not meet listing 3.02(A). (Pl.'s Br. 22, ECF No. 13.) She argues that the results from her medical examination on February 20, 2007, prove that she met this listing. (Id. at 24.) The Commissioner argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision to rely on the results from her March 15, 2007, examination proving that Ms. Frazier did not meet listing 3.02(A). (Def.'s Br. 5, ECF No. 14.)
To meet listing 3.02(A), a claimant must have an FEV1 value "equal to or less than the values specified in table I corresponding to the person's height without shoes." 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appx. 1, § 3.02(A) ("Listing 3.02(A)"). The FEV1 value "should represent the largest of three satisfactory forced expiratory maneuvers." Id. at § 3.00(E). Two of the satisfactory spirograms "should be reproducible for both pre-bronchodilator tests and, if indicated, post-bronchodilator tests." Id. A ...