United States District Court, D. Maryland
April 29, 2016, Plaintiff Hope Y. Carroll petitioned this
Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny her claim for Supplemental Security
Income. (ECF No. 1). I have considered the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment and Ms. Carroll's
reply. (ECF Nos. 21, 23, 26). I find that no hearing is
necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). This
Court must uphold the decision of the Agency if it is
supported by substantial evidence and if the Agency employed
proper legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996). Under that standard, I will deny both
motions, reverse the judgment of the Commissioner, and remand
the case to the Commissioner for further analysis pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This letter
explains my rationale.
Carroll filed a claim for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on October 15, 2012. (Tr. 137-45). She
alleged a disability onset date of March 1, 2012.
Id. Her claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 95-98, 100-03). A hearing was held on
September 11, 2014, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 39-73). Following the hearing, the
ALJ determined that Ms. Carroll was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 23-38). The Appeals Council denied Ms.
Carroll's request for review, (Tr. 1-6), so the ALJ's
decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the
found that Ms. Carroll suffered from the severe impairments
of “obesity and osteoarthritis of the shoulders, back,
and knees.” (Tr. 28). Despite these impairments, the
ALJ determined that Ms. Carroll retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except
that she requires a sit/stand option and she can perform no
overhead work. Additionally, due to a combination of pain and
other physical symptoms, she is able to perform no more than
simple, routine tasks.
(Tr. 29). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms.
Carroll could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in
the national economy and that, therefore, she was not
disabled. (Tr. 32-34).
Carroll's sole argument on appeal is that the ALJ erred
by failing to resolve the apparent conflict between the
VE's testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”) pursuant to the Fourth Circuit's
ruling in Pearson v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 204 (4th Cir.
2015). Specifically, Ms. Carroll argues that the ALJ failed
to identify and resolve an apparent conflict between the
ALJ's finding that Ms. Carroll was limited to “no
overhead work” and the VE's testimony that
“[she] could perform jobs that, according to the DOT,
may have required overhead reaching[.]” Pl. Mot. 12. I
agree that the ALJ's opinion violates Pearson,
and thus remand to allow compliance with that decision. In
remanding for additional explanation, I express no opinion as
to whether the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Ms. Carroll
is not entitled to benefits is correct or incorrect.
Pearson, the Fourth Circuit held that an ALJ has a
duty, independent of the VE, to identify any “apparent
conflicts” between the VE's testimony and the DOT
and to resolve any such conflicts. Pearson, 810 F.3d
at 208-10. The Fourth Circuit noted that the ALJ's duty
to identify and resolve conflicts with the DOT extends beyond
simply asking the VE whether his testimony is consistent with
the DOT. Id. Rather, the Fourth Circuit clarified
that “the ALJ (not the [VE])” is
required to “‘[i]dentify and obtain a reasonable
explanation' for conflicts between the [VE's]
testimony and the [DOT][.]” Id. at 208
(emphasis in original) (citing SSR 00-04p). The Fourth
Circuit limited the ALJ's duty to identifying
“apparent” conflicts, which it held to mean
“that the ALJ must identify where the expert's
testimony seems to, but does not necessarily, conflict with
the [DOT]. For the Ruling [SSR 00-4p] explains that
‘[i]f the [VE]'s…evidence appears to
conflict with the [DOT], the adjudicator will obtain a
reasonable explanation for the apparent
conflict.'” Id. at 209 (emphasis in
original). In Pearson, the apparent conflict at
issue involved the degree of reaching required for a job
identified by the VE. Id. at 210-11. According to
the DOT, the job required frequent reaching, in no specific
direction, while the claimant was limited to occasional
overhead reaching with one arm. Id. Thus, the Fourth
Circuit found that the ALJ erred by failing to identify and
resolve the apparent conflict between the VE's testimony
that the claimant could perform the job and the job
requirements provided by the DOT. Id.
instant case, the ALJ determined that Ms. Carroll was limited
to “no overhead work.” (Tr. 29). At the hearing,
the ALJ asked the VE whether there were jobs in the national
economy for an individual with Ms. Carroll's
limitations. (Tr. 68). In response, the VE testified
that such an individual could perform the jobs of
“addresser, ” “order clerk, ” and
“machine feeder.” (Tr. 69). The VE also testified
that there was no conflict between his testimony and the DOT
regarding Ms. Carroll's limitation to “no overhead
work.” Id. In reliance on the VE's
testimony, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Carroll could perform
jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy
and that, therefore, she was not disabled. (Tr. 32-34).
However, under the DOT, all three positions identified by the
VE require “frequent reaching.” DOT at
209.587-010, 209.567-014, 652.685-038. The DOT defines
“reaching” as “[e]xtending hand(s) and
arm(s) in any direction.” App. C, Selected
Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the Revised
Dictionary of Occupational Titles C-3 (emphasis added).
Thus, the ALJ failed to identify an apparent conflict between
the VE's testimony that Ms. Carroll could perform work
available in sufficient numbers in the national economy and
the requirements of that work under the DOT. “Although
the [DOT] does not expressly state that the occupations
identified by the [VE] require…overhead reaching, the
[DOT's] broad definition of ‘reaching' means
that they certainly may require such reaching.
Comparing the [DOT] definition to [Ms. Carroll's]
limitations, the [VE's] testimony that [she] could
fulfill the requirements of these occupations
apparently conflicts with the [DOT].”
Pearson, 810 F.3d at 211 (emphasis in original). As
in Pearson, “this is exactly the sort of
inconsistency the ALJ should have resolved with the
expert's help.” Id. Indeed, “it is
the purview of the ALJ to elicit an explanation from the
expert as to whether these occupations do, in fact,
require…overhead reaching.” Id.
Accordingly, in light of this inadequacy, I must remand the
case to the Commissioner for further analysis. On remand, the
ALJ should determine what form of reaching the VE's
stated occupations require and whether Ms. Carroll can
fulfill those requirements given her limitations.
reasons set forth herein, Ms. Carroll's Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 21) is DENIED and Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 23) is DENIED. Pursuant
to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the
Commissioner's judgment is REVERSED IN PART due to
inadequate analysis. The case is REMANDED for further
proceedings in accordance with this opinion. The Clerk is
directed to CLOSE this case.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as
an opinion and docketed as an order.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United ...