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Meade v. Berryhill

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

January 31, 2017

SANDRA MEADE PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Sandra Meade, applied for disability benefits on May 10, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of June 9, 2008. (Tr. at 12) After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied her application. (Tr. at 21) 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 Ms. Meade 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 Ms. Meade had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of June 9, 2008. (Tr. at 14) At Step Two, the ALJ found that Ms. Meade had the following severe impairments: asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), sinusitis, and obesity. (Tr. at 14)

         After finding that Ms. Meade's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 15), the ALJ determined that Ms. Meade had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with additional limitations: she could lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; she could stand or walk up to six hours in an eight-hour workday; she could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she could not work around unprotected heights; she could not be exposed to concentrated heat extremes; and she could not be exposed to concentrated fumes, odors, and gases. (Tr. at 16)

         The ALJ found that Ms. Meade could perform her past relevant work, which directs a finding of “not disabled.” (Tr. at 18) The ALJ, however, made an alternative finding at Step Five. (Tr. at 19) He relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on Ms. Meade's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform at the light level, specifically, general office clerk and personal care assistant. (Tr. at 20) Based on that Step Five determination, the ALJ found that Ms. Meade was not disabled. (Tr. at 21)

         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 [the evidence] 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. Ms. Meade's Argument on Appeal

         Ms. Meade argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits because the ALJ erred in his RFC determination and failed to fulfill his duty to develop the record. The Court agrees.

         A claimant's RFC represents the most she can do despite the combined effects of all credible limitations. It must be based on all credible evidence. McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). In determining a claimant's RFC, the ALJ has a duty to establish, by competent medical evidence, the physical and mental activity that the claimant can perform in a work setting, after giving appropriate consideration to all of her impairments. Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir. 1996). The RFC in this case was not based on substantial evidence in the record as a whole.

         Ms. Meade began treatment for chronic asthma and sinus infections in April 2007. (Tr. at 369-370) Linda Farris, APN, diagnosed chronic sinusitis and rhinitis after finding enlarged bilateral turbinates. (Tr. at 369) A May, 2007 CT scan showed mucosal thickening and chronic sinusitis as compared to a March 2007 study. (Tr. at 317) Ms. Farris prescribed Levaquin, Advair, Singulair, steroidal nose spray, and antibiotics. She also recommended allergy testing. (Tr. at 373) Ms. Meade made an appointment for allergy testing, but she missed her appointment. (Tr. at ...


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