Martin v. Social Security Administration
ORDER reversing and remanding the decision of the Commissioner for action consistent with this opinion. This is a "sentence four" remand. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 1/12/2017. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CASE NO. 3:16-CV-147-BD
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
Dewayne Martin seeks judicial review of the denial of his application for
supplemental security income benefits.1 (Docket entry #13) Mr. Martin claims he has
been disabled since October 12, 2006, when he was injured in a car accident. (SSA
record at 104) Mr. Martin based disability on arthritis in his hands and problems with his
neck and left shoulder. (Id. at 61)
The Commissioner’s ALJ held a hearing on Mr. Martin’s application. Mr. Martin
appeared, but was not represented by counsel. (Id. at 21) After considering Mr. Martin’s
application, the ALJ determined that Mr. Martin had severe impairments — left shoulder
pain and cervical degenerative disc disease — but that he could do light work with no
The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge. (Docket
frequent overhead reaching with the left upper extremity. (Id. at 11) The ALJ went on to
find, at step four, that Mr. Martin could perform his past relevant work as a “small
business manager.” (Id. at 14) Alternatively, the ALJ found, at step five, that because a
vocational expert (“VE”) identified office helper and small products assembler as
representative available work, Mr. Martin was not disabled and denied the application.
(Id. at 15)
After the Commissioner’s Appeals Council denied a request for review, the ALJ’s
decision became a final decision for judicial review. (Id. at 1-3) Mr. Martin filed this
case to challenge the decision. (#2) In reviewing the decision, the court must determine
whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the ALJ made a legal
Mr. Martin’s Allegations
Mr. Martin challenges two aspects of the ALJ’s decision: (1) the determination
that he could perform his past relevant work; and (2) the assessment of his credibility.
(#13) Mr. Martin claims that the VE mischaracterized his past relevant work as a
“Manager, Retail Store” Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) listing 185.167-046.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (requiring district court to determine whether
Commissioner’s findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether
Commissioner conformed with applicable regulations); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185,
187 (8th Cir. 1997) (court will uphold decision if it isn’t based on legal error and
substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports conclusion that claimant isn’t
He says that he worked from 1993 to 2010 as a self-employed glass installer and thirteen
years as a glass installer for S&S glass both before and after being self-employed. (Id.
24-25) He contends that working as a glass installer exceeds his ability for light work
without frequent overhead reaching with his left arm.
Further, according to Mr. Martin, the other jobs identified by the VE, office helper
and small products assembler, require frequent and constant reaching respectively. He
claims that both jobs exceed his limitations and that the VE did not explain the conflict.
Consequently, he contends that the Commissioner failed to meet her burden to show work
exists that he could do. For these reasons, he argues, substantial evidence does not
support the decision.
Applicable Legal Principles
Mr. Martin’s arguments implicate steps four and five of the disabilitydetermination process.
At step four, the ALJ determines whether the claimant retains the “residual
functional capacity” (RFC) to perform his … past relevant work. If the
claimant remains able to perform that past relevant work, he is not entitled
to disability … benefits. If he is not capable of performing past relevant
work, the ALJ proceeds to step five and considers whether there exist work
opportunities in the national economy that the claimant can perform given
his … medical impairments, age, education, past work experience, and
RFC. If the Commissioner demonstrates that such work exists, the claimant
is not entitled to disability … benefits.
McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted).
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s credibility assessment. To determine a
claimant’s RFC, the ALJ must first assess the claimant’s credibility because it plays a role
in determining RFC. See SSR 96-7p, Policy Interpretation Ruling Titles II & XVI:
Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims: Assessing the Credibility of an Individual’s
Statements. To assess Mr. Martin’s credibility, the ALJ followed the required two-step
process and considered the required factors. Id. (SSA record at 11) The court must
decide whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s credibility assessment.
The ALJ may discount the claimant’s subjective complaints if there are
inconsistencies in the record as a whole. Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th
Cir. 1984). Mr. Martin complains that the ALJ failed to specifically mention his work
history and relied solely on medical evidence when assessing his credibility. Both
Mr. Martin testified that he was involved in an automobile accident in 2006 that
left him with neck and back pain. (Id. at 25-26) There is no medical evidence in the
record prior to March, 2013, and Mr. Martin continued to work until 2012. (Id. at 24)
The treatment records and work history are inconsistent with the alleged onset date and
with his claims of disabling pain.
In December, 2013, nine months after undergoing a consultative physical
examination by Joseph M. Patterson, M.D., Mr. Martin began treatment for neck, left
shoulder, back, and feet pain at ARCare. (Id. at 213-14) Mr. Martin was treated
conservatively. (Id. at 207-2014) An x-ray of his cervical spine on October 2, 2014
revealed mild disc space narrowing at C4-5, C5-6 and C6-7, and mild stenosis at C5-C6
on the right. (Id. at 230) The impression was mild chronic degenerative changes. (Id.)
In addition to the medical evidence, the ALJ discussed Mr. Martin’s activities of
daily living. The ALJ noted that Mr. Martin completed a pain questionnaire in October,
2013, indicating that he had pain in his neck, shoulder, hands and fingers, “all the time
everyday.” (Id. at 12, 140) And yet he was not taking any pain medication. (Id. at 141)
The ALJ also observed that, in a function report, Mr. Martin reported being able to feed
and water his cat, bathe and dress with some pain, prepare small meals every day, perform
light housework, ride in a car, go out alone, shop in stores for groceries, watch television,
read, and used no assistive devices. (Id. at 144-51) The ALJ assessed relevant factors in
making his credibility determination.
Mr. Martin complains that the ALJ did not mention his work history when
evaluating his credibility. While it is true the ALJ did not specifically mention work
history in the section of the opinion where he discussed credibility, earlier in the opinion
the ALJ noted that Mr. Martin had performed glass installation work over the last twenty
years and had a “history of consistent work activity.” (Id. at 10)
The ALJ considered all relevant factors in assessing Mr. Martin’s credibility. See
Casey v. Astrue, 503 F.3d 687, 696 (8th Cir. 2007) (ALJ is not required to discuss every
Conflicts in the Vocational Expert’s Testimony at Step 4
Apparent unresolved conflicts exist in this case. Under the Commissioner’s
regulation, the ALJ must ask the VE for a reasonable explanation ”for any ‘apparent
unresolved conflict’ between vocational expert testimony and the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (DOT), before relying on the testimony in determining whether the
claimant is disabled.” SSR 00-4p, Titles II & XVI: Use of Vocational Expert &
Vocational Specialist Evidence, & Other Reliable Occupational Information in Disability
Here, the conflicts flow from the ALJ’s findings at steps four and five that Mr.
Martin could perform his past relevant work as a “small business manager” and,
alternatively, that he could perform the jobs of office helper and small products
assembler. (Id. at 14) When the ALJ asked the VE about Mr. Martin’s past relevant
work, he identified the work as glazier3 (DOT 865.381-010) and “manager,” which the
VE testified is “also listed as small business owner” (DOT listing 185.167-046). The VE
The job of glazier describes a person who “[I]nstalls glass in windows, skylights,
store fronts, and display cases, or on surfaces, such as building fronts, interior walls,
ceilings, and tabletops” and is classified as medium work in the DOT. DOT 865.381-010.
went on to testify that a person with Mr. Martin’s limitations could return to his past
relevant work as a “manager.”
Identifying his past relevant work as a “manager” created an apparent conflict with
the DOT, because DOT listing 185.167-046 is titled “Manager, Retail Store.” The DOT
describes this position as:
Manages retail store engaged in selling specific line of merchandise, such
as groceries, meat, liquor, apparel, jewelry, or furniture; related lines of
merchandise, such as radios, televisions, or household appliances; or
general line of merchandise, performing following duties personally or
supervising employees performing duties: Plans and prepares work
schedules and assigns employees to specific duties. Formulates pricing
policies on merchandise according to requirements for profitability of store
operations. Coordinates sales promotion activities and prepares, or directs
workers preparing, merchandise displays and advertising copy. Supervises
employees engaged in sales work, taking of inventories, reconciling cash
with sales receipts, keeping operating records, or preparing daily record of
transactions for ACCOUNTANT (profess & kin.) 160.162-018, or performs
work of subordinates, as needed. Orders merchandise or prepares
requisitions to replenish merchandise on hand. Ensures compliance of
employees with established security, sales, and record keeping procedures
and practices. May answer customer's complaints or inquiries. May lock and
secure store. May interview, hire, and train employees. May be designated
according to specific line of merchandise sold, such as women's apparel or
furniture; related lines of merchandise, such as camera and photographic
supplies, or gifts, novelties, and souvenirs; type of business, such as mail
order establishment or auto supply house; or general line of merchandise,
such as sporting goods, drugs and sundries, or variety store.
At the hearing, when the ALJ asked Mr. Martin about his past work, he testified
that he worked as a glass installer for S&S Glass for 13 years before doing the “same
thing” as a self-employed as a glass installer from 1993 until 2010. (Id. at 24-25) He
testified that he installed residential and commercial glass. (Id. 27)
In a Work History Report, Mr. Martin described his job when he was selfemployed as “installed residential and commercial glass.” (Id. at 153) He reported the
job required him to walk or stand, stoop, handle and reach eight hours a day. He stated he
frequently lifted fifty pounds and occasionally 100 pounds. (Id.) He stated that he
supervised one other person and was responsible for hiring and firing, but also indicated
that he was the lead worker. (Id.) His description of his job with S&S was identical
except there he supervised two people and was not responsible for hiring and firing. (Id.
It is clear from Mr. Martin’s testimony that, while self-employed, he did not
manage a retail store; engage in selling merchandise, such as groceries, meat, liquor,
apparel, jewelry, or furniture; supervise employees engaged in sales promotion activities,
or direct workers preparing, merchandise displays and advertising copy; or supervise
employees engaged in sales work. The only task of Mr. Martin’s job that appears similar
to that of a retail manager is that he was responsible for hiring and firing the one
employee who assisted him in his glass installation business.
In spite of the apparent conflict between the retail manager job described in the
DOT and the glazier job described in the DOT and actually performed by Mr. Martin, the
ALJ did not ask the VE to explain the apparent conflict. Mr. Martin, who was
unrepresented at the hearing, appeared to have noticed the conflict. He engaged in the
following exchange with the ALJ after the VE testified that he had performed work as a
CLMT: I can’t work with computers.
ALJ: Well, when you own a business they classify you as a manager whether or
not you work with computers.
CLMT: I never used one, I don’t know how.
CLMT: Always just did it with a pen and pencil.
(Id. at 35)
At the conclusion of the VE’s testimony, the ALJ asked whether her testimony was
consistent with the DOT and its companion publications. (SSA record at 36) The VE
answered “yes.” (Id.) That response was insufficient to resolve the apparent conflict,
between the job actually performed by Mr. Martin and the “retail manager” job identified
by the VE as Mr. Martin’s past relevant work. While the ALJ may have recognized the
conflict, his statement that, because Mr. Martin was a business owner, he is classified as a
manager is inadequate to resolve the conflict, which requires expert testimony. The ALJ
erred by finding that Mr. Martin could do his past relevant work as a manager.
Conflicts in the Vocational Expert’s Testimony at Step 5
The ALJ made an alternative finding at Step 5 of the sequential process that Mr.
Martin could perform other jobs available. He found that Mr. Martin could perform the
jobs of office helper (DOT 239.567-010) and small products assembler (DOT 739.687030). A description the Selected Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the Revised
Dictionary of Occupational Titles (SCO) — a DOT companion publication — lists
frequent reaching as a physical requirement for office helper, and constant reaching as a
physical requirement for small products assembler. SCO at 06.04.23 and 07.07.03. The
SCO defines reaching as “[e]xtending hand(s) and arm(s) in any direction.” SCO at
Appendix C. Again, the ALJ addressed the possibility of a conflict by asking the VE
generally about consistency with the DOT and its companion publications, but under
Eighth Circuit case law, that is not enough to resolve the conflict.
Although a particular job’s requirements may be more or less than the SCO’s listed
requirements, the SCO’s reaching requirements have served as the basis of two Eighth
Circuit remands. Moore v. Colvin, 769 F.3d 987 (8th Cir. 2014); Kemp v. Colvin, 743
F.3d 630 (8th Cir. 2014). In both cases, the ALJ limited the claimant’s ability to reach,
and the VE identified a job that, according to the SCO, requires frequent reaching.
Moore, 769 F.3d at 989; Kemp, 743 F.3d at 632. In both cases, the ALJ asked the VE
about the consistency of his testimony with the DOT, but it was not enough for the VE to
confirm his testimony was consistent with the DOT and the companion volumes. Moore,
769 F.3d at 989; Kemp, 743 F.3d at 632. In both Moore and Kemp, the Eighth Circuit
remanded because the record did not reflect whether the VE or the ALJ recognized an
apparent conflict. Moore, 769 F.3d at 990; Kemp, 743 F.3d at 633. In another case, the
Eighth Circuit stated, the ALJ has “an affirmative responsibility to ask about ‘any
possible conflict’ between [vocational expert] evidence and the DOT . . ..” Welsh v.
Colvin, 765 F.3d 926, 929 (8th Cir. 2014). That is, the record must reflect an explanation
about why a person with reaching limitations could do jobs that may require frequent or
The VE’s general statement that her testimony was consistent with the DOT and its
companion publications was insufficient to resolve the conflict, because the record does
not explain why a person who cannot perform frequent overhead reaching with his left
upper extremity can reach frequently and constantly to work as an office helper and small
products assembler. Considering the frequency with which a VE encounters these
occupations, there is likely an explanation, but the record does not reflect the explanation.
The record does not even reflect whether the VE or the ALJ recognized the conflict. This
case requires additional vocational evidence to resolve the conflict.
Inconsistency in the record supports the ALJ’s credibility assessment, but the ALJ
did not resolve apparent conflicts between the VE’s testimony and the DOT. The
decision of the Commissioner is not supported by substantial evidence. For this reason,
the Commissioner’s decision is reversed and remanded for action consistent with the
opinion. This a “sentence four” remand within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and
Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89 (1991).
DATED this 12th day of January, 2017.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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