United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
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
reasons stated below, the Court reverses the ALJ's decision
and remands for further review.
The Commissioner's Decision:
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)
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)
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)
Standard of Review
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.
Meade's Argument on Appeal
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.
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.
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 ...