APONTE v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
OPINION & ORDER that Plaintiff's appeal be and hereby is GRANTED; that the Commissioner's decision in this matter is VACATED and REMANDED to the Commissioner for further proceedings, etc. Signed by Judge Madeline Cox Arleo on 7/31/17. (cm, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 15-2742
OPINION AND ORDER
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
ARLEO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff Ismael Aponte’s (“Plaintiff”) request
for review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c)(3) and 405(g), of the Commissioner of Social
Security Administration’s (“Commissioner”) denial of Disability Insurance Benefits and/or
Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“disability benefits”). This Court exercises jurisdiction
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and having considered the parties’ submission, the Court finds that
the Commissioner’s decision is not supported by substantial evidence and is hereby VACATED
and REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion and Order.
By way of brief background, Plaintiff’s May 23, 2011 application for Disability Insurance
Benefits and Supplemental Security Income was denied initially on October 20, 2011 and upon
reconsideration on November 28, 2012. Tr. 11, 95-100, 104-06, 120-22. After a hearing was held
before ALJ Patrick Kilgannon on August 29, 2013, the ALJ issued an opinion finding that Plaintiff
was not disabled within the meaning of the Act because he could perform his past relevant work
as an order entry clerk. Tr. 8-25. On February 13, 2015, Plaintiff’s subsequent request for review
by the Appeals Council was denied. Tr. 1-6. This appeal followed.
Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred in finding that he has sufficient residual functional
capacity to return to his past relevant work because the ALJ improperly categorized his past
relevant work. The Court agrees.
In his opinion, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is capable of “performing past relevant
work as an order entry clerk” for UPS Supply Chain Solutions. Tr. 19. At the hearing, Plaintiff
testified that this position required him “to locate the item, bring the item, package the item, give
them[,] . . . put it in the system, and ship it off to the driver.” Tr. 34. The VE and ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff’s past relevant work as an “order entry clerk” corresponded with DOT# 203.582-054,
which requires work at the sedentary level. Tr. 19, 46.
Yet DOT #203.582-054 is actually titled “data entry clerk,” not “order entry clerk.” And
the functions of a “data entry clerk” are described as follows:
Operates keyboard or other data entry device to enter data into computer or onto magnetic
tape or disk for subsequent entry: Enters alphabetic, numeric, or symbolic data from source
documents into computer, using data entry device, such as keyboard or optical scanner,
and following format displayed on screen. Compares data entered with source documents,
or re-enters data in verification format on screen to detect errors. Deletes incorrectly
entered data, and re-enters correct data. May compile, sort, and verify accuracy of data to
be entered. May keep record of work completed.
DOT #203.582-054. Plaintiff’s responsibilities as an “order entry clerk” do not appear to
correspond with this listing.
In a situation where “there is an unexplained inconsistency or conflict between the DOT
and the testimony of the vocational expert,” the ALJ must “ask the vocational expert whether any
possible conflict exists between the vocational expert’s testimony and the DOT.” Burns v.
Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 126-27 (3d Cir. 2002). If there does appear to be a conflict, the ALJ must
“elicit a reasonable explanation for the apparent conflict,” which must “be made on the record, and
 the ALJ [must] explain in his decision how the conflict was resolved.” Id. at 127. The ALJ did
not even acknowledge, much less resolve, this conflict.
The Court is also troubled by another aspect of the VE’s testimony. At the hearing, the
ALJ asked the VE whether a hypothetical person with the RFC to perform light work or sedentary
work could perform Plaintiff’s past work, and the VE testified that this hypothetical person “could
not work as an order entry clerk.” Tr. 47 (light exertional limitation), Tr. 48 (sedentary exertional
limitation). Curiously, the ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff could perform his previous work as
an order entry clerk. Tr. 19-20. Although the VE’s testimony as recorded may have been, as the
Commissioner notes, the result of a typographical error, it renders the ALJ’s conclusion that
Plaintiff could perform his past work activities even further unsupported.
Accordingly, the ALJ’s step four finding that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work
is not supported by substantial evidence, and remand is appropriate.1
IT IS on this 31st day of July 2017 ORDERED that Plaintiff’s appeal be and hereby is
GRANTED; and it is further ORDERED that the Commissioner’s decision in this matter is
Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff retains the residual functional
capacity to perform light work. In particular, he alleges that the ALJ improperly discounted
Plaintiff’s complaints of severe pain, and erred by assigning great weight to the non-examining
state agency physicians’ reports over that of other medical evidence. Whether the ALJ’s RFC
decision was supported by substantial evidence is a close call, in particular because the ALJ did
not appear to discuss many of the findings of Dr. Nathaniel Barber, Plaintiff’s primary treating
physician (who at one point opined that Plaintiff could not return to work), and because the ALJ’s
opinion appears to state that Plaintiff “described activities consistent with a limitation to sedentary
work,” despite the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff could perform light work. Tr. 18, 314. Given the
Court’s decision to remand as to whether Plaintiff can perform his past relevant work, the ALJ
should also revisit his RFC determination to address these issues on remand.
VACATED and REMANDED to the Commissioner for further proceedings in accordance with
this Opinion and Order.
/s Madeline Cox Arleo
HON. MADELINE COX ARLEO
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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