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Dec 11, 2010

"Benefits Denied" Isn't Enough

From Spiva v. Astrue (7th Cir. December 6, 2010)
The government implies that if the administrative law judge’s opinion consisted of two words—“benefits denied”—a persuasive brief could substitute for the missing opinion. That is incorrect. It would displace the responsibility that Congress has delegated to the Social Security Administration—the responsibility not merely to gesture thumbs up or thumbs down but to articulate reasoned grounds of decision based on legislative policy and administrative regulation—into the Justice Department, which represents the agency in the courts.
Update: Just to clarify: The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decision did not consist merely of two words. The Court of Appeals found the ALJ's rationale sorely lacking and held that Social Security could not defend the decision by telling the Court what rationale the ALJ could have used. The Court held that the ALJ decision must be judged upon what it said, not upon what it might have said.

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  • 6 Comments:

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    It is hard to imagine that they attempted to defend the 2 word denial.

    6:18 AM, December 11, 2010  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Judge Posner nailed it in this decision. The court's role is to review the ALJ's DECISION, not the case.

    1:54 PM, December 11, 2010  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I've now read the court's decision and it was not a 2 word denial, but it apparently was very poorly written. However, just from the history given in the court summary, I am amazed that the claim was not allowed at a much lower level. I'd be very much suprised if it is not overturned on remand.

    2:08 PM, December 11, 2010  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    That link is dead now.

    I just found it here, but it will probably move again:

    http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/3J1FFF2O.pdf

    2:39 PM, December 11, 2010  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Does anyone else find this opinion ironic?

    1) Posner starts out by making a somewhat irrelevant ding into the ALJ decision, e.g. about the "severe combination of impairments."

    2) Having established this, Posner then goes on to discredit the ALJ decision further by creatively elaborating on what he perceives to have been absent from consideration.

    Ever seen a Social Security disability decision that runs along these lines? Gosh, Posner's analytical structure is eerily similar to the "boilerplate" decisions he attacks. The opinion ends up reading like some sort of twisted credibility finding on the ALJ herself.

    I may not provide brilliant economic analysis and I may not be a 7th Circuit court judge. However, something tells me this isn't exactly the applicable standard of review:

    "Had [the ALJ] considered it carefully, she might well have reached a different conclusion."

    Wow.

    4:12 PM, December 11, 2010  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    "Had [the ALJ] considered it carefully, she might well have reached a different conclusion."

    This actually is a good standard of review for a harmless error argument. In this type of argument, the government concedes the ALJ erred, but argues that the error is harmless because, on remand, the ALJ would surely find the claimant disabled. Consequently, if the ALJ could come to a different decision absent the error, the error is not harmless.

    My first reading on this is "ouch." SSA's attorney want to zealously advocate for their client, but this might be an argument too far...

    12:33 PM, December 12, 2010  

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