White v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

Filing 16

ORDER: The ALJ's decision is REVERSED AND REMANDED for an award of benefits. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly and terminate this case. Signed by Judge Douglas L Rayes on 11/15/2023. (KJ)

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1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 9 Michael David White, 10 Plaintiff, 11 v. 12 Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 13 No. CV-21-02108-PHX-DLR ORDER Defendant. 14 15 Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Michael White seeks judicial review of the 16 Social Security Administration’s decision denying his application for Supplemental 17 Security Income benefits. The Court must affirm the agency’s decision if it is free of 18 harmful legal error and supported by substantial evidence. See Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 19 630 (9th Cir. 2007). After reviewing the record, the Court finds clearly harmful error 20 requiring a remand for an automatic award of benefits. 21 White argues that the agency’s administrative law judge (“ALJ”) made harmful 22 errors in his weighing of White’s symptom testimony and the medical opinion evidence, 23 but the Court does not need to resolve those issues in order to rule in White’s favor. For 24 purposes of this order, the Court can assume the ALJ properly weighed White’s symptom 25 testimony and the medical opinion evidence. The Court can even assume the ALJ properly 26 formulated White’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”). Still, the agency’s decision is 27 unsupportable. 28 The ALJ asked the vocational expert whether an individual with White’s RFC could 1 sustain White’s past relevant work as a software engineer, then asked if such an individual 2 could sustain any other work within the national economy. (AR. 17-18.) The vocational 3 expert opined that an individual with White’s impairments could not sustain work as a 4 software engineer or any other full-time work in the national economy. (AR. 18.) In his 5 written decision, the ALJ said he agreed with the vocational expert’s opinions. Yet, the 6 ALJ inexplicably reached the opposite conclusion, finding White was not disabled because 7 he could sustain his past work as a software engineer. (AR. 83.) The ALJ’s conclusion is 8 clear error because it contradicts the evidentiary record and the opinion of the vocational 9 expert with which the ALJ said he agreed. And this error is harmful because, had the ALJ’s 10 decision reflected his agreement with the vocational expert, he would have found White 11 disabled due to his inability to sustain his past relevant work or other work in the national 12 economy. Although, an “automatic award of benefits in a disability benefits case is a rare 13 and prophylactic exception to the well-established ordinary remand rule” Leon v. Berryhill, 14 880 F.3d 1041, 1044 (9th Cir. 2017), here the Court must remand for an award of benefits 15 because it is clear that the ALJ’s factual findings compel the conclusion that White is 16 disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. 17 IT IS ORDERED that the ALJ’s decision is REVERSED AND REMANDED for 18 an award of benefits. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly and terminate 19 this case. 20 Dated this 15th day of November, 2023. 21 22 23 24 25 Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge 26 27 28 -2-

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