United States District Court, District of Columbia
ANTHONY D. HOLLAND, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
JUDGMENT OF REVERSAL; GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
JUDGMENT OF AFFIRMANCE RE DOCUMENT NOS 13, 14
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge
Anthony Holland unsuccessfully applied for supplemental
security income (SSI) benefits. After an SSA Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) rejected his application, Mr. Holland sought
review of that decision from this Court. After the Court
referred this case to Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson
for full case management, Magistrate Judge Robinson
recommended that the Court affirm the ALJ's 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 Mr.
Holland's motion for reversal.
Holland applied for SSI benefits in 2010. Compl. ¶ 5,
ECF No. 3-2; AR 142, 302, ECF No. 10. He reported that he
suffers from “severe bipolar disorder . . . and
post-traumatic stress disorder, which was exacerbated by
sexual and physical assault as a child, assaults and gang
rape as an adult in prison, and nearly eight years spent in
solitary confinement.” See Pl.'s Mot. J.
Reversal at 1, ECF No. 13. Mr. Holland's application was
denied initially and again on reconsideration. Pl.'s Mot.
J. Reversal at 1. The first hearing took place on June 19,
2012. Id. On July 24, 2012, ALJ Larry Banks denied
Mr. Holland's claim, finding that he was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. AR 149. Mr.
Holland successfully administratively appealed,
ALJ Banks held another hearing on May 1, 2014. Pl.'s Mot.
J. Reversal at 2. On June 27, 2014, the ALJ again denied Mr.
Holland's claim, but this time the Appeals Council
affirmed the denial. Id.
second hearing, the ALJ used the five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether an individual is
disabled, as outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). AR
11-12. As a general matter, “[t]he law defines
disability as the inability to do any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment . . . . To meet this definition, [the
claimant] must have . . . severe impairment(s) that make
[him] unable to do . . . any . . . substantial gainful work
that exists in the national economy.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1505(a). The ALJ found that Mr. Holland has multiple
severe impairments-namely, degenerative disc disease and
bipolar disorder with generalized anxiety. AR 13. However, he
concluded that Mr. Holland's impairments, when considered
together or alone, do not meet or medically equal the
severity of the impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 13. In making this determination,
he gave “little weight” to the opinion of
Plaintiff's treating physician, because his opinion was
“inconsistent with the findings of all other providers,
. . . inconsistent with his own treatment notes, and . . .
not supported by any current treatment notes.” AR 18.
The treating physician, Dr. Trower, began treating Mr.
Holland in February 2011. AR 16. During a January 2012 mental
status examination, Dr. Trower reflected in her notes that
Mr. Holland had “good hygiene and neat appearance,
” “normal” speech, “cooperative and
“euthymic” mood, and full affect, and “goal
directed and logical” thought process. AR 580-81. Her
notes also “consistently show[ed] that [Mr. Holland]
was stable on medication.” AR 18, 584-85, 589-96. In
February 2014-over two years after she had last conducted a
mental status examination of Mr. Holland-Dr. Trower opined
that Mr. Holland could not work because he had depression and
trouble maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace. AR
doctors had a different take. Dr. Jaffe examined Mr. Holland
in September 2010, at which time Mr. Holland stated that he
could not find work because he is an ex-convict. AR 531. Dr.
Jaffe concluded, based on a mental status examination, that
Mr. Holland had only slight limitations when it comes to
“work pressures in a usual work setting.” AR
535-38. In October 2010, reviewing the work of Dr. Jaffe,
state medical consultant Dr. Murphy reached a similar
conclusion; he opined that Mr. Holland “could be
expected to complete a normal workweek without exacerbation
of psychological symptoms, ” and “retains the
ability to perform repetitive work activities without
constant supervision.” AR 543. Another doctor, Dr.
Kaiser, reached a similar conclusion around the same time. AR
570-71. Some psychiatric treatment notes from April through
June 2013 that do not indicate the specific provider document
normal mental status findings. AR 16, 699-701. In January
2014, Mr. Holland was examined by Dr. Wangard. AR 610. After
conducting a mental status examination, Dr. Wangard concluded
that Mr. Holland's mental status was within normal
limits, that he had “no limitation in his ability to
follow and understand simple directions, . . . to perform
simple tasks independently, to maintain a regular schedule,
to learn new tasks, to perform complex tasks independently,
to make appropriate decisions, or to appropriately deal with
stress.” AR 613-14. Dr. Wangard also noted that he had
no limitations with respect to social interaction or
adaptation. AR 614.
Banks credited the group of doctors who indicated that Mr.
Holland's impairments were relatively mild. AR 17-18. He
gave “great weight” to Dr. Jaffe and Dr. Wangard,
because they were “thorough and objective” and
consistent with each other despite being conducted four years
apart. AR 17. He also found that their opinions were
consistent with Mr. Holland's testimony that he is better
able to focus while on his medication. AR 17. He also gave
“great weight” to the opinion of Dr. Murphy,
because it was based upon the opinions of Dr. Jaffe. AR 17.
He gave “little weight” to Dr. Trower's 2014
opinion, because it was inconsistent with the other
providers, not supported by her own treatment notes at the
time of her evaluations of Mr. Holland, and not supported by
any current treatment notes. AR 18.
Banks also discounted Mr. Holland's own testimony, much
of which the ALJ said was unsupported by “objective
documentation to support limitations beyond what is in the
given residual functional capacity.” AR 18. ALJ Banks
emphasized that while Mr. Holland testified that he
“suffers from depression, anxiety, and panic attacks,
” he also stated that his medicine makes him
“feel calmer, more focused, and [makes him] able to
sleep.” AR 15. This, ALJ Banks reasoned, was consistent
with Dr. Trower's notes that he is stable while on his
medication. AR 16, 584-85, 589-96. Without his medicine, Mr.
Holland stated that he is “irritable, sarcastic,
paranoid, and has violent thoughts, ” and to cope with
his confrontational attitude, he stays in his room. AR 15.
ALJ Banks emphasized that, “[i]n terms of daily
activities, [Mr. Holland] testified that he takes care of his
hygiene and grooming, prepares meals, goes to [Alcoholics
Anonymous] and [Narcotics Anonymous] meetings as well as
church, takes naps, checks his mail, checks with the staff at
his [residential program for homeless individuals] if they
would like him to do a chore, . . . [and] enjoys playing
chess and going for walks on nice days.” AR 15. Mr.
Holland also testified that he at one point lived with his
girlfriend, and maintained a positive relationship with her.
AR 16. From these activities and relationships, ALJ Banks
concluded that Mr. Holland “experiences good benefit
from his medications, ” and that this is
“supported by objective clinical records.” AR 18.
The ALJ concluded that Mr. Holland has the functional
capacity to perform light work because, in his opinion, Mr.
Holland has only moderate difficulties in daily living,
social functioning, and concentration, AR 13, and the
negative effects of his impairments are reduced by his
medication, AR 15.
Banks posed four hypotheticals to the Vocational Expert (VE)
during the hearing, in response to which the VE suggested
that there are jobs in the national economy that Mr. Holland
could hold, in light of his age, education, work experience,
and residual functional capacity, in part because his
impairments would only lead him to being off-task for five
percent of the workday. AR 14-15, 78-82. However, the VE stated
that if Mr. Holland were off-task for twenty percent of the
day, there would not be jobs available in the national
economy. AR 82. Mr. Holland's attorney posed a fifth
hypothetical based on Mr. Holland's testimony that he
“continuously question[s] peoples' motives . . .
[and] feels the need to retreat” for days at a time,
requiring him to “stay in [his] room most of the
day.” AR 87-88. The VE responded that no jobs would be
available to such a person, because, just as with the
ALJ's fourth hypothetical, this would require the person
to be off-task for twenty percent of the time or more-indeed
it would require him to be off-task almost all of the time.
Magistrate Judge Robinson's Report and
Holland sought this Court's review of the ALJ's
decision in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 28
U.S.C. §§ 1361, 1383(c)(3). Compl. ¶ 1. He
moved for reversal of the ALJ's decision on the grounds
that ALJ Banks did not give adequate weight to the opinion of
Mr. Holland's treating physician, and erred in varying
ways in his application of the five-step evaluation process
for determining whether a person is disabled. Pl.'s Mot.
J. Reversal, ECF No. 13. Defendant moved for affirmance.
Def.'s Mot. J. Affirmance, ECF No. 14. The Court referred
the case to Magistrate Judge Robinson for full case
management. Order Referring Case to Magistrate Judge, ECF No.
Judge Robinson recommended that the ALJ's opinion be
affirmed. Report & Recommendation (“R&R”)
at 18, ECF No. 19. In doing so, Magistrate Judge Robinson
found that ALJ Banks's “decision to not give
controlling weight to the opinion of . . . [the] treating
physician was supported by substantial evidence, ”
R&R at 7, because the ALJ credited the testimony of four
doctors whose opinions conflicted with the testimony of the
treating physician, and because the last mental examination
by the treating physician occurred in January 2012- over two
years prior to the hearing. See R&R at 8-9.
Magistrate Judge Robinson also found that, because the ALJ
found that Mr. Holland would only be off-task for around five
percent of the ...