United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
Oscar Montoya (“Montoya”), applied for disability
benefits on April 27, 2016, alleging a disability onset date
of January 1, 2015. (Tr. at 15). After conducting a hearing,
the Administrative Law Judge (AALJ") denied his
application. (Tr. at 32-33). The Appeals Council denied his
request for review. (Tr. at 1). The ALJ's decision now
stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Montoya
has requested judicial review.
reasons stated below, the Court reverses the ALJ's decision
and remands for further review.
The Commissioner's Decision:
found that Montoya had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of January 1, 2015.
(Tr. at 18). The ALJ found, at Step Two of the sequential
five-step analysis, that Montoya has the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of cervical and lumbar
spine, osteoarthritis of bilateral knees, hypertension,
residuals of right carpal tunnel syndrome, and obesity.
Three, the ALJ determined that Montoya's impairments did
not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr. at 21.
Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that
Montoya had the residual functional capacity (ARFC@) to
perform sedentary work except that: 1) he can only
occasionally overhead reach; 2) he can only occasionally
climb ropes and stairs; 3) he can only occasionally balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; 4) he can only occasionally
push and pull with the lower extremities; and 5) he can
frequently handle and finger. (Tr. at 22).
found Montoya was unable to perform any past relevant work.
(Tr. at 31). Relying on the testimony of the Vocational
Expert ("VE"), the ALJ found that, based on
Montoya's age, education, work experience and RFC, there
are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that Montoya is capable of performing. (Tr. at 32).
Those jobs are assembler, Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”) 739.684-094, and inspector, DOT
521.687-086. Id. Based on the Step Five
determination, the ALJ held that Montoya was not disabled.
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 it 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. 1996)).
Montoya's Arguments on Appeal
argues that substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's decision to deny benefits. He contends that the ALJ
did not give proper weight to the medical opinions and that
the ALJ did not resolve an inconsistency between the DOT and
the VE testimony. The Court agrees with Montoya and finds
that remand is proper.
pivotal question in this case is whether the jobs identified
by the VE require more than the RFC prescribes. The ALJ
assigned an RFC with only occasional overhead
reaching, and the jobs of assembler and inspector require
frequent reaching, which the DOT defines as
extending hands and arms in any direction. See DOT
739.684-094 (Assembler); DOT 521.687-086 (Inspector); Def.
Br. at 10. This is a conflict that the VE did not
relying on VE evidence to support a determination that a
claimant is not disabled, the ALJ has an affirmative
responsibility to ask about "any possible conflict"
between VE testimony and the DOT, and to obtain an
explanation for any such conflict. Renfrow v.
Colvin,496 F.3d 918, 920-21 (8th Cir. 2007); see Social
Security Ruling (“SSR”) 00-4p, 2000 WL 1898704
(Dec. 4, 2000). In this case, the ALJ asked: “Your
testimony today, is it consistent with the DOT?” (Tr.
at 63). The VE responded: “It is, but I will state . .
.that the exception of the over - occasional overhead reach,
the DOT does not address directional reaching. So that's