Submitted: August 15, 2018
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of New York
Stephen Lockwood appeals from a judgment of the United States
District Court for the Northern District of New York
(Christian F. Hummel, Magistrate Judge), upholding
the decision of Defendant-Appellee Commissioner of Social
Security to deny his application for disability insurance
benefits. We conclude that the Commissioner's decision
was not supported by substantial evidence because it relied
on testimony from a vocational expert that appeared to be in
conflict with the authoritative guidance set out in the
Department of Labor's Dictionary of Occupational
Titles. Because the Commissioner was not entitled to
rely on this testimony without first identifying and
inquiring into the apparent conflict, the District Court
erred in declining to set aside the Commissioner's
we REVERSE the District Court's judgment
and REMAND for further proceedings.
Patrick G. Radel, Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore,
LLP, Utica, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.
Andreea L. Lechleitner, Special Assistant United States
Attorney, (Stephen P. Conte, Regional Chief Counsel - Region
II, on the brief), Office of the General Counsel, United
States Social Security Administration, New York, NY, for
Grant C. Jaquith, United States Attorney for the Northern
District of New York, Syracuse, NY, for Defendant-Appellee.
Before: Cabranes and Pooler, Circuit Judges, and Oetken,
District Judge [*]
PAUL OETKEN, DISTRICT JUDGE.
Stephen Lockwood appeals from a June 21, 2017 judgment of the
United States District Court for the Northern District of New
York (Christian F. Hummel, Magistrate Judge),
upholding the decision of Defendant-Appellee Commissioner of
Social Security ("Commissioner") to deny
Lockwood's application for disability insurance benefits.
On appeal, Lockwood argues among other things that the
District Court should have set aside the benefits denial as
unsupported by substantial evidence because the denial relied
on expert testimony that contained an unexamined apparent
conflict with an authoritative Department of Labor
publication, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.
We agree with Lockwood on this point and therefore
REVERSE the District Court's judgment
and REMAND for further proceedings.
November 11, 2011, Lockwood was injured in an automobile
accident while working as a landscaper. In the following
months, Lockwood experienced abnormal sensation in his hands
and severe pain in his neck and was, according to Drs.
Srinivasan Mani and Mark Smith, disabled from performing his
regular job as a consequence. In terms of diagnosis, the
doctors believed that the unusual feeling in Lockwood's
hands might be a result of carpal tunnel syndrome and that
the neck pain might be attributable to herniated disks in
Lockwood's cervical spine.
address the neck pain, Dr. Smith advised Lockwood to undergo
disk-repair surgery. Dr. Richard Tallarico, an orthopedic
surgeon, concurred in this advice, and he performed the
recommended surgery on November 7, 2012.
the surgery, Lockwood consulted several times with Nurse
Practitioner Catherine Tomaiuoli. In an early consultation,
Nurse Tomaiuoli observed that Lockwood's neck pain
persisted and that he had a reduced range of motion in his
left shoulder, as well as difficulty with certain arm
movements. She recommended that Lockwood receive a magnetic
resonance imaging ("MRI") scan and that he restrict
the amount of weight he lifted.
2013, Lockwood received the recommended MRI. Based on the
results, Nurse Tomaiuoli referred Lockwood to Dr. John
Cannizzaro, an orthopedic surgeon, who examined Lockwood and
on July 16, 2013, concluded that his shoulder was 30%
disabled. During a subsequent consultation, Dr. Tallarico,
the surgeon who had operated on Lockwood's neck, deemed
Lockwood to be 75% impaired as a result of his continuing
neck and shoulder pain and his limited range of motion. Dr.
Tallarico considered Lockwood's disability to be
Lockwood was following up on his doctors' suggestion that
he suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome. On May 22, 2013, he
received carpal tunnel release surgery on his right wrist
from Dr. Kevin Setter. During a follow-up examination with
Nurse Practitioner Carmelita Woods, however, Lockwood
reported that he was continuing to experience tenderness and
abnormal sensation in his hands. After examining Lockwood,
Nurse Woods concluded that Lockwood had 50% and 25%
impairments in his right and left hands, ...