Pugh v. Social Security Administration
ORDER remanding this case for legal for error. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 6/11/2015. (ks)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
JILL L. PUGH
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
Oral argument hearing was held on June 4, 2015. Following a review of the record
and arguments presented by counsel, the Court announced its findings of fact and
conclusions of law. This case is remanded to the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration under Sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for further administrative
This case needs additional vocational evidence to satisfy step five. At step five,
the Commissioner determines whether work exists in the national economy that the
claimant can do, in spite of his or her impairments. For claimants like Mr. Pugh, who
have non-exertional limitations, the ALJ must consult a vocational expert to determine
“whether jobs exist for a person with the claimant’s precise disabilities.” Under the
Commissioner’s regulation, the ALJ must ask the vocational expert 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.”
There are apparent unresolved conflicts in this case. First, the ALJ misspoke, or
the transcriber mistyped, with respect to the first hypothetical to the VE: “I would restrict
this individual to only overhead reaching.” (SSA 63)(Emphasis added) From the ALJ’s
opinion, it is reasonable to assume that the ALJ said, or meant to say, “I would restrict
this individual to occasional overhead reaching.”
But even assuming that to be a harmless mistake, in this circuit there is a more
problematic inconsistency. The second conflict assumes that the ALJ limited Mr. Pugh to
only occasional overhead reaching. When the ALJ asked the vocational expert about
available work for a person with this (and other) limitations, the vocational expert
identified only Fishing Reel Assembler (DOT 732.684-062) and Machine Tending (DOT
690.685-258), both of which are considered sedentary, unskilled work.
Identifying Fishing Reel Assembler created an apparent conflict with the DOT,
however, because 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 Fishing Reel Assembler. The SCO lists
Laminator (Machine Tending) as requiring constant reaching. The SCO defines reaching
as “[e]xtending hand(s) and arm(s) in any direction.” The ALJ addressed the possibility
of a conflict by asking the vocational expert generally about consistency with the DOT
(SSA p. 62), but under Eighth Circuit case law, that is not enough to resolve the conflict.
Although the requirements of a particular job may be more or less than the SCO’s
listed requirements, the SCO’s reaching requirements served as the basis of two recent
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 vocational
expert identified a job that, according to the SCO, required frequent reaching. In both
cases, the ALJ asked the vocational expert about the consistency of his testimony with the
DOT, but the court of appeals found it insufficient for the vocational expert to merely
confirm that his testimony was consistent with the DOT, even including the companion
volumes. In both cases, the Eighth Circuit remanded because the record did not reflect
whether the vocational expert or the ALJ recognized an apparent conflict.
In another recent 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
a job that may require frequent reaching.
The apparent conflict was not resolved in this case. At the beginning of the
vocational expert’s testimony, the ALJ asked the vocational expert to advise whether his
testimony was inconsistent with the DOT. The vocational expert answered, “I will.”
Under the case law, that response was insufficient to resolve the conflict, because the
record does not explain why a person who can reach overhead only occasionally can work
as a Fishing Reel Assembler or Machine Tender.
There may be an explanation, but the record does not reflect the explanation. The
record does not even reflect whether the vocational expert or the ALJ recognized the
conflict. This case requires additional vocational evidence to resolve the conflict.
This case is remanded for the legal error, i.e., an unresolved conflict between
claimant Mr. Pugh’s reaching limitations and the reaching requirements for the two
occupations identified by the VE. On remand, the Commissioner’s ALJ should obtain
additional vocational evidence and resolve the conflict. The ALJ may obtain vocational
evidence by questioning a vocational expert during a hearing or by written interrogatories.
After obtaining vocational evidence, the ALJ should consider whether work exists that
Mr. Pugh can do.
An excerpted transcript of the Court’s findings and conclusions is attached.
So ordered, this 11th day of June, 2015.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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