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Trump Judges Ignore Medical Notes and Deny Social Security Income Benefits: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

News and Analysis
Trump Judges Ignore Medical Notes and Deny Social Security Income Benefits: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.

Trump Ninth Circuit judges Daniel Collins and Lawrence Van Dyke ignored medical notes indicating an individual’s limitations in working a full work week in a decision affirming the district court’s ruling that denied an application for Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The August 2020 decision was Larkin v. Saul.

Jacqueline Larkin applied for SSI benefits because of her inability to work.  She had limitations with keeping a job and working a regular work week due to her mood and anxiety.

The administrative law judge (ALJ) denied her application and Larkin appealed to the district court. The district court affirmed the ALJ’s decision. Larkin then appealed to the Ninth Circuit alleging that the district court failed to consider a portion of the state’s physician’s notes indicating that she had “some limitations” with working a regular work week.

In a 2-1 decision, Trump judges Collins and VanDyke affirmed the district court’s ruling explaining that Larkin’s limitation was not so severe that it kept her from being able to follow through with routine tasks. The notes of the physician indicated that Larkin could “perform simple, routine tasks and follow short, simple instructions.” Although she had “some difficulty working directly with the public,” she could “work in jobs that required only occasional exposure to or interaction with the general public.”

Judge Marsha Berzon strongly dissented, explaining  that “the examining psychologist, said three different times, under three different headings, that Larkin would have problems with attendance, punctuality, and completing a regular workweek.” The ALJ was required to incorporate that finding into his assessment of Larkin’s functional ability or explain why he was not incorporating it into his assessment. Because the ALJ gave no reason to reject the physicians’ finding of “some limitation”, the ALJ erred in omitting the limitation from the determination.