United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
WILLIAM G. YOUNG W DISTRICT JUDGE.
an appeal of the final decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner")
denying an application for Social Security disability
insurance benefits. Plaintiff Ryan Mallard
("Mallard") appeals the denial on the grounds that
it is not supported by substantial evidence under the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Compl., ECF No. 1;
Mem. Supp. Pl's Mot. Reverse Commissioner's Decision
("Pl's Mem.") 5, ECF No. 22.
before this Court are Mallard's motion to reverse and the
Commissioner's motion to affirm the Commissioner's
final decision. Pl's Mot. Reverse Commissioner's
Decision ("Pl's Mot."), ECF No. 21; Def.'s
Mot. Affirm Decision Commissioner ("Def.'s
Mot."), ECF No. 24; Mem. Supp. Def.'s Mot. Affirm
Commissioner's Decision ("Def.'s Mem."),
ECF No. 25. For the reasons stated below, this Court DENIED
the Commissioner's motion to affirm the decision and
remanded the case for further proceedings. Order, ECF No. 30.
argues that the Social Security hearing officer's
decision denying his application for benefits, which the
Appeals Council's denial of review made final,
see Administrative R., Notice Appeals Council Action
1, ECF No. 19-2, is not supported by substantial evidence.
Pl's Mem. 5. Mallard argues that the hearing officer
failed (1) to consider important evidence of Mallard's
mental health conditions; (2) to accord proper weight to the
opinion of his treating physician, instead giving improper
weight to his non-treating physicians; (3) to consider
Mallard's own testimony; (4) to consider evidence
regarding challenges associated with commuting; and (5) fully
to consider the vocational expert's testimony.
Id. at 7-11.
6, 2016, Mallard applied for Social Security disability
insurance benefits, alleging that he became disabled on July
23, 2015. Administrative R., Ex. 2, Documents Administrative
Process, ALJ Hearing Decision ("Hearing Decision")
1, ECF No. 19-2; see also Administrative R., Ex. ID,
Application Summary Disability Insurance Benefits
("Application Summary") 1, ECF No. 19-5. The Social
Security hearing officer initially denied Mallard's
application on August 30, 2016, and then again upon
reconsideration on December 6, 2016. Hearing Decision 1. On
Mallard's request for a hearing, the hearing officer
subsequently held a video hearing pursuant to section
404.936(c) of title 20 of Code of Federal Regulations on June
1, 2017. Id. Mallard, represented by counsel Robert
L. Noa, appeared and testified at the hearing. Idw
Administrative R., Tr. Oral Hr'g 3, ECF No. 19-2. Michael
Laraia, a vocational expert, also testified at the hearing.
Hearing Decision 1; Tr. Oral Hr'g 3-4.
August 21, 2017, the hearing officer denied Mallard's
claim for disability insurance benefits at step five of the
sequential evaluation process, finding that Mallard retained
the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy. Hearing Decision 17-18. On October 3, 2017, the
Appeals Council denied Mallard's request for review, AC
Denial 1, rendering that decision final and ripe for judicial
review, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
December 8, 2017, Mallard filed a complaint with this Court
against Nancy A. Berryhill,  Acting Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration. Compl. On May 8, 2018, after a
hearing, this Court denied the Commissioner's motion to
dismiss for failure to state a claim. Electronic Clerk's
Notes, ECF No. 15; Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 9.
17, 2019, Mallard moved for an order reversing the
Commissioner's decision. ECF No. 21. On July 29, 2019,
the Commissioner moved to affirm the Commissioner's
decision. ECF No. 24. This Court heard oral argument on these
motions on September 24, 2019 and remanded the case for
further proceedings. Electronic Clerk's Notes, ECF No.
29; Order, ECF No. 30. This opinion explains that decision.
Education and Occupational History
was born on March 5, 1979 and was 36 years old on July 23,
2015, the alleged onset date of his disability. Hearing
Decision 16; see also Application Summary 1. He
attended some of high school but did not complete his high
school education. Administrative R., Ex. 7F, Office Treatment
Records 3, ECF No. 19-9.
has previously worked as a security guard and as a sign
installer. Hearing Decision 16; see also
Administrative R., Ex. 1A, Disability Determination
Explanation DIB 14, ECF No. 19-3. As a security officer at
Shaw's, Mallard sat in the office, checked the
identification documents of incoming customers, and monitored
cameras. Tr. Oral Hr'g 7. He also walked around the
building to do random checks. Id.
worked for Intersection Media for seven years as a sign
installer, where he carried a bundle of signs, went to places
as instructed, and installed the signs. Id. at 7-9.
He also worked as a sign installer for Sign Design, Inc.,
where he did a lot of lifting and climbing with a ladder to
install signs. Id. at 11. He installed all types of
signs, including signs up to 100 pounds. Id. Mallard
worked as a sign installer through late July 2015.
Id. at 11-12.
23, 2015, Mallard suffered an injury to his low back while he
was working. Administrative R., Ex. 2F, Inpatient Hospital
Records ("Inpatient Hospital Records") 5, ECF No.
19-7. Mallard was carrying sign templates through a door when
the templates hit the top of the door frame and caused his
body to twist into a painful posture. Id.
this injury, Mallard has not engaged in any substantial
gainful activity. Hearing Decision 3; see also
Application Summary 1. Mallard has received constant
treatment for his ongoing lower back pain since the accident.
Hearing Decision 6-7. He was treated with Percocet,
Administrative R., Ex. IF, Hospital Records 17, ECF No. 19-7,
Meloxicam, Administrative R., Ex. 6F, Office Treatment
Records 10, ECF No. 19-9, Oxycodone, id. at 11, and
Ibuprofen, Administrative R., Ex. 4F, Office Treatment
Records 2, ECF No. 19-8.
also suffered right hip fracture in a motor vehicle accident.
Hearing Decision 3; Administrative R., Ex. 3F, Progress Notes
("Progress Notes") 2, ECF No. 19-7. On December 18,
2015, Mallard received treatment for the right hip fracture
at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Id. He was
discharged on December 20, 2015. Id. at 1. Mallard
has a history of an abdominal gunshot wound that happened
around 2005. Hearing Decision 3.
his gunshot wound around 2005, Mallard has suffered a series
of mental illnesses, including posttraumatic stress disorder,
depression, and bipolar. Ex. 7F, Office Treatment Records 1,
ECF No. 19-9. Since July 23, 2015, Mallard's mental
health deteriorated, and his bipolar disorder, depression,
anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder became
exacerbated. Id. at 1, 5. The following is a summary
of the records pertaining to the medical treatment,
medication management, and hospitalization related to
Mallard's deteriorating mental health conditions.
was hospitalized and admitted to Arbour Hospital on November
17, 2015 because of severe depression and suicidal ideation.
Inpatient Hospital Records 5. Mallard reported having bipolar
disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and
depression. Id. The hospital record noted that
"Mr. Mallard presented with a mixed state of both
depression with suicidal ideation and pressured hyperverbal
elevated statements about himself." Id. at 6.
With treatment, Mallard reported an improvement in his mood
and denied suicidal ideation. Hearing Decision 7.
Medication Management by Crystal White
May 2016 to April 2017, Crystal White, a nurse practitioner
at South Shore Mental Health, managed Mallard's
medications. Id. at 9-14. Psychiatric evaluation
notes from Crystal White document, inter alia, that
Mallard suffered symptoms of paranoia, both visual and
auditory hallucinations, depression, anxiety and
posttraumatic stress disorder, Ex. 27F, Office Treatment
Records 28-29, ECF No. 19-15, and that he isolated himself
and experienced decreased ability to feel pleasure,
id. at 47.
Treatment by Dr. Daniels
October 2015 to May 2017, Dr. David Daniels ("Dr.
Daniels") at South Shore Mental Health provided regular
psychiatric care for Mallard. See Hearing Decision
7-14. Dr. Daniels noted that Mallard reported difficulty with
memory and concentration, and that he presented with symptoms
including agitation and startle reactions, Ex. 7F, Office
Treatment Records 4, ECF No. 19-9, auditory hallucinations,
and ongoing panic attacks and nightmares, Administrative R.,
Ex. 3OF, Progress Notes 5, ECF No. 19-16. Dr. Daniels
diagnosed Mallard with bipolar disorder and posttraumatic
stress disorder. Ex. 7F, Office Treatment Records 5. Dr.
Daniels reported that Mallard's symptoms interfered with
his ability to concentrate, interact with others, and cope
with stress. Ex. 7F, Office Treatment Records 26. Dr. Daniels
also concluded that Mallard's impairments affected his
ability to work and that he expected them to last six to
twelve months. Administrative R., Ex. 18F, Outpatient
Hospital Records 12, ECF No. 19-10.
Evaluation by Dr. Warren
August 29, 2016, Dr. John Warren ("Dr. Warren"), an
advising psychologist to the Disability Determination
Services, on initial consideration of Mallard's
application, conducted a medical assessment of Mallard based
only on the paper record. Disability Determination
Explanation DIB 2-6; see Social Security Handbook
(last visited November 14, 2019). This record contained,
among other things, hospitalization records and the medical
opinions from Dr. Daniels and other physicians. Disability
Determination Explanation DIB 2-6. Dr. Warren assessed that
Mallard would sustain moderate restriction in maintaining
social functioning and concentration or persistence.
Id. at 13. Dr. Warren concluded that Mallard,
despite the above-mentioned restrictions, could perform
simple tasks over a routine workday or week with acceptable
attention, persistence, and pace, and could sustain the basic
demands related to work by supervisors and co-workers.
Id. at 13-14. Dr. Warren ...