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Williams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 31, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

         Denying Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment of Reversal; Granting Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance


          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff, Ms. Kyla Williams, unsuccessfully applied for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. Her appeal was rejected by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and Ms. Williams sought this Court's review of the ALJ's decision. After this case was referred to Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson for full case management, Magistrate Judge Robinson recommended that the Court affirm the denial of benefits. Because the Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Robinson's conclusions, the Court will adopt the report, grant the Defendant's motion for affirmance, and deny Ms. Williams's motion for reversal.


         Ms. Williams applied for SSI benefits in 2012. AR 193-99.[2] She reported that she was disabled due to pain in her knee, manic depression, and bipolar disorder. AR 237. The Social Security Administration denied Ms. Williams's application. AR 108. Ms. Williams appealed the denial to an ALJ, resulting in a hearing, see Transcript, AR 38-66, and eventually a written opinion affirming the denial, see ALJ Decision, AR 18-30. The ALJ concluded that Ms. Williams did have multiple severe impairments-namely, degenerative joint disease, obesity, and bipolar disorder. ALJ Decision, AR 22. However, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Williams did not qualify for SSI benefits because she still had the ability, or residual functional capacity, to perform limited types of work. ALJ Decision AR 24. Specifically, the ALJ found that Ms.

         Williams could:

perform sedentary work . . . except [Ms. Williams] cannot operate foot controls with her right foot. She cannot climb ladder[s], ropes, or scaffolds or crawl. She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch. [Ms. Williams] should avoid exposure to extreme cold and exposure to workplace hazards such as unprotected machinery and unprotected heights. [Ms. Williams] is limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; in a work environment free of fast paced production requirements; involving only simple, work-related decisions; with few, if any, work place changes. She can have no interaction with the public and only occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors.

ALJ Decision, AR 24. Because the ALJ concluded that Ms. Williams's residual functional capacity permitted her to perform work existing in significant quantities in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that she was not disabled. ALJ Decision, AR 24-29.

         The dispute between the parties focuses on the ALJ's conclusions concerning Ms. Williams's psychiatric conditions, which Ms. Williams argued the ALJ did not adequately consider in determining her residual functional capacity. Ms. Williams presented assessments from three psychiatrists-Dr. Prayaga, [3] Dr. Rehman, and Dr. Panbehi.[4] ALJ Decision, AR 27. Drs. Prayaga and Rehman had treated Ms. Williams, and Dr. Panbehi was familiar with her treatment records. ALJ Decision, AR 27. Each psychiatrist stated, with some variation, that Ms. Williams's psychiatric conditions prevented her from working.[5] ALJ Decision, AR 27. The ALJ also considered some of Ms. Williams's treatment notes. ALJ Decision, AR 27; see also Psychiatric Encounter Notes, AR 547-72. The treatment notes spanned from August 7, 2013 to August 27, 2014.[6] Psychiatric Encounter Notes, AR 547-72. The substance of the treatment notes varies very little from encounter to encounter, and the written comments are often repeated verbatim from visit to visit. See generally Psychiatric Encounter Notes, AR 547-72. In general, the treatment notes indicate that Ms. Williams's condition was stable and that no new major concerns were present. See generally Psychiatric Encounter Notes, AR 547-72.[7]

         In considering the evidence from Ms. Williams's psychiatrists, the ALJ concluded that Dr. Prayaga's letter was entitled to “little weight” because the treatment records “evidence[d] a much higher level of functioning” than the letter. ALJ Decision, AR 27. Similarly, the ALJ concluded that Dr. Rehman's letter should receive “little weight” because “it comes from a checkbox form that is not supported by [Ms. Williams's] treatment records showing much less significant symptomatology.” ALJ Decision, AR 27. Finally, the ALJ gave Dr. Panhebi's letter “little weight” because it was not supported by Ms. Williams's psychiatric progress reports or treatment notes. ALJ Decision, AR 27. In discounting these three assessments, the ALJ also considered Ms. Williams's ability to perform the tasks of daily living-such as using public transit, shopping, cooking, and caring for her son-and that her symptoms may not be as severe as she stated because of her “lack of compliance” with medical advice. ALJ Decision, AR 25. In addition, the ALJ weighed the opinions of two state agency consultants, who advised-concerning Ms. Williams's psychiatric conditions-that she was “moderately” limited in her ability to concentrate and work with others. ALJ Decision, AR 26-27; see also AR 73-77, 103-04.[8] The ALJ gave the state consultants' opinions “some weight” but noted that they frequently used the term “moderate, ” which “is vague and can encompass a range of functioning.” ALJ Decision, AR 27.

         Ultimately, after weighing all of the evidence, including the three assessments, the ALJ concluded that, although “[Ms. Williams's] medically determinable impairments could be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, ” “[Ms. Williams's] statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible.” ALJ Decision, AR 24-25. In weighing all of the evidence about Ms. Williams's psychiatric state, the ALJ concluded that “the more probative evidence of record” supported that Ms. Williams had “an ability to perform work within [her identified] residual functional capacity.” ALJ Decision, AR 28.

         Ms. Williams sought this Court's review of the ALJ's decision in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1. Ms. Williams moved for reversal of the ALJ's decision, Pl.'s Mot. J. Reversal, ECF No. 10, and Defendant moved for affirmance, Def.'s Mot. Affirmance & Opp'n Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 12.[9] The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Robinson for full case management. Order (June 15, 2016), ECF No. 9; Docket Entry (Nov. 29, 2016). Magistrate Judge Robinson's Report and Recommendation concluded that the ALJ's opinion should be affirmed. Report & Recommendation (R&R), ECF No. 16. Ms. Williams objected to the R&R, Pl.'s Obj. R&R, ECF No. 17, and Defendant responded, Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Obj., ECF No. 18.

         III. ...

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