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ALJ failed to reconcile conflicts between VE and DOT, said court

As part of the disability analysis, an ALJ must reconcile any conflict between the vocational expert's (VE) testimony and the Department of Labor's Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). Here, the claimant suffered from back and neck problems that caused him to have limitations with his left hand and arm. The VE testified at the hearing that an individual with the claimant's limitations could perform duties as an office helper, mail clerk, or parking lot cashier. However, the DOT states that these jobs require frequent handling, fingering, and reaching. During the hearing, the VE did not explain how the claimant could perform these jobs given the limitations with his left hand and arm. Further, the ALJ failed to ask the VE to reconcile the potential inconsistency between the job descriptions and the claimant's limitations. The court explained that the conflict must be obvious to trigger an ALJ's duty to inquire further. In addition, the court noted that an ALJ should ordinarily ask a VE to explain why there is no conflict between the DOT and the applicant's residual functional capacity in order to avoid unnecessary appeals. The court concluded that, based on common experience, it would be likely that an office helper, mail clerk, or parking lot cashier would need to use his or her left hand in performing the duties of the job. Therefore, the ALJ should have inquired into the discrepancies between the recommended jobs and the claimant's limitations. Moreover, the court found that the failure to reconcile the conflict was not harmless. The denial of benefits was reversed and the case was remanded to the ALJ to follow up with the VE (Darren Lamear v. Berryhill, CA-9, August 1, 2017).