United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
REPORT & RECOMMENDATION
Patricia D. Barksdale, United States Magistrate Judge
a case under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review a final
decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
denying Josh Hooper's claim for disability-insurance
benefits. Hooper seeks reversal and remand based on
the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”)
findings concerning his impairments, residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), and past relevant work. Doc.
was born in 1962 and last worked in October 2012, when he
retired. Tr. 185, 230. He has some college education and
experience as a police officer and police captain. Tr. 43-46,
62. He alleges he became disabled in October 2012 from
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), a lumbar
injury, hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux disease,
chronic bronchitis, headaches, and nerve damage in his
elbows, hands, neck, and lower back. Tr. 229-30. He is insured
through 2017. Tr. 194, 205. He proceeded through the
administrative process, failing at each level. Tr. 1-6,
20-29, 75-101, 104-07, 109-14. This case followed. Doc. 1.
entered a decision on June 1, 2016. Tr. 29.
one,  the ALJ found Hooper has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since October 2012 (the alleged
onset date). Tr. 22.
two, the ALJ found Hooper suffers from severe impairments of
cervicalgia; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
status post-lumbar surgery; and status post-right-shoulder
surgery. Tr. 22. She found his PTSD, major depressive
disorder, anxiety disorder, and alcohol/substance abuse
addiction are non- severe. Tr. 22. In doing so, she
considered the “paragraph B”
criteria and found he has mild difficulties in
activities of daily living; mild difficulties in social
functioning; and mild difficulties maintaining concentration,
persistence, and pace; and has had no episode of
decompensation of extended duration. Tr. 23-24.
three, the ALJ found Hooper has no impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
any listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. Tr. 23.
stating she had considered the entire record and summarizing
medical evidence, the ALJ found Hooper has the RFC to perform
“a reduced range of light work”:
Specifically, the claimant could lift and/or carry 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk for
a total of six hours in an eight-hour day, and sit for a
total of six hours in an eight-hour day. The claimant is able
to occasionally climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds. The claimant
is able to occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
Additionally, the claimant must avoid concentrated exposure
to hazards, such as machinery and heights.
four, the ALJ found Hooper can perform his past relevant work
as a police captain as that position is generally performed.
Tr. 28. She therefore found no disability. Tr. 28.
Standard of Review
court's review of an ALJ's decision is limited to
determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal
standards and whether substantial evidence supports his
findings. Moore v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 1208, 1211
(11th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is “less than a
preponderance”; it is “such relevant evidence as
a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. A court may not decide facts
anew, reweigh evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's judgment.
Id. If an ALJ committed an error of law, the court
must remand the case to the Commissioner. Jamison v.
Bowen, 814 F.2d 585, 588 (11th Cir. 1987).
Law & Analysis
first and second issues, Hooper complains about the ALJ's
analysis of his mental impairments. Doc. 18 at 17-22.
his retirement from law enforcement, beginning in April 2014,
and continuing to at least February 2016 (the date of the
last record), Hooper visited Circles of Care for mental
health treatment at least fourteen times. Tr. 350-80 (Ex.
2F); Tr. 611-18 (Ex. 9F).
Circles of Care, Hooper saw Rehan Farooqui, M.D., Todd Gates,
D.O., and Mathew Sajida, M.D. Tr. 350-80; Tr. 611-18. They
diagnosed him with anxiety disorder, major depressive
disorder, and PTSD. Tr. 352, 355, 358, 360, 362, 364, 366,
368, 370, 374, 378, 612, 615. They prescribed medications for
the impairments and their symptoms. Tr. 353, 356, 359, 361,
363-65, 367, 369, 371, 373, 375, 379-80, 613- 14, 616.
Eventually, Dr. Gates opined, it “is very clear that
there is a problem with substance abuse and
dependence.” Tr. 363.
Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”)
ratings made during the visits were usually 55
(indicating moderate symptoms or impairments), but sometimes
60 (also indicating moderate symptoms or impairments) and 65
(indicating mild symptoms or impairments), and once as low as
49 (indicating serious symptoms or impairments). Tr. 352,
355, 358, 360, 362, 364, 366, 368, 612, 615.
status examinations performed during the visits showed normal
functioning in many areas but issues in some areas: only fair
insight and judgment in April 2014; struggles with anxiety
and reports of significant problems with focus and
concentration in May 2014; a mildly nervous affect and only
fair insight and judgment in June 2014; difficulty
concentrating, nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive unwanted
memories of traumas in July 2014; increased anxiety and mild
depression in January 2015; an overly medicated appearance,
slurred speech, a dull flat affect, and mildly impaired
concentration in July 2015; a highly anxious and very
depressed presentation and negative preoccupation in July
2015; a “down” mood and limited insight and
judgment in July 2015; and limited insight and judgment in
January and February 2016. Tr. 352-53, 355, 364, 368, 370,
372, 374, 378, 615, 612.
record from a visit on February 24, 2016, Dr. Mathew noted,
[Hooper's] wife called several days ago, concerned about
his depressive symptoms, and had indicated that they had
planned for him to get voluntarily admitted to a
hospital/residential facility. He stated today, that they are
still looking at options. He reported that he is feeling
better than he was at that time. He continues to feel
depressed, have poor energy and motivation, anhedonia, and
difficulty functioning, but denies suicidal thoughts. He
stated that pain is also less controlled. Discussed
medication trials including brintellix, but he stated that he
does not want to take anymore medications. Past medication
trials has been ineffective, or he has not been able to
tolerate it. He denies drug or alcohol abuse. He stated his
wife is very supportive. He denies aggressive or suicidal
wife provided two third-party functional reports. Tr. 210-17,
264-79. In one from August 2015, she included that Hooper
“cannot con[c]entrate for very long on any task because
the pain is very distracting”; he “lays in the
recliner chair [or] bed” and does “very little
else”; he used to do all of the cooking and grocery
shopping but can now only make sandwiches; he sometimes
forgets to pay the bills; they used to go to the beach, dine
out, ride bikes, boat, fish, and walk, but now he only
watches television; his conversations become
“sporadic” and “bounce to other topics
without notice”; he “starts to do chores and
stops completely”; he “can only follow a very
short list with simple instructions w/out distraction”;
he does not handle stress well because the “pain causes
guilt and he feels sad about all the things he cannot help
with”; and he has begun “strange habits”
like making throat noises and eating more desserts than he
ever has. Tr. 210-16. She concluded, “He used to be a
police officer-strong, attentive to detail, a leader. He used
to take care of all things around the house. Now he can do
nothing[.]” Tr. 217. She provided a similar statement
on another occasion (the date is unclear). Tr. 264-79.
record also includes a summary of an interview of
Hooper's wife in September 2015. Tr. 248 (Exhibit 8E).
The interviewer conveyed that Hooper's wife had provided
the following information. Hooper has a driver's license
and owns a car. Tr. 248. She drives him to appointments and
errands, but because she has a fulltime job, he sometimes has
to drive himself. Tr. 248. He takes care of his personal
hygiene and grooming and takes his medication without help.
Tr. 248. He manages the money, and she checks, hoping he is
doing okay. Tr. 248. He does small chores (the dishes, some
laundry, and some light cleaning). Tr. 248. He uses the
computer for online banking and email. Tr. 248. Because he is
“in a lot of pain, ” he does little during the
day and no longer grocery shops. Tr. 248. He “jumps
around [a lot] and does not concentrate as well as he used
[to].” Tr. 248. He does not really watch movies with a
storyline anymore. Tr. 248. He gets along well with other
people. Tr. 248.
initial benefits determination, the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) considered a report from
Judith Meyers, Psy. D., a state-agency consultant. Tr. 75-86
(Exhibit 1A). She reviewed the records from Circles of Care
up to August 2015. Tr. 77. In her “Findings of Fact and
Analysis of Evidence, ” she describes only one record
from Circles of Care (the record of the visit on July 27,
2015). Tr. 79. She identified Hooper's mental impairments
as “Affective Disorders, ” “Anxiety
Disorders, ” and “Alcohol, Substance Addiction
Disorders” and opined each was “Non
Severe.” Tr. 80. For the paragraph B criteria, she
opined he has mild difficulties in activities of daily
living; mild difficulties in social functioning; and mild
difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, and
pace; and has had no episode of decompensation of extended
duration. Tr. 80. Under “Additional Explanation,
” she partially describes the record from Circles of
Care she had described earlier, part of another record from
Circles of Care that indicated his wife's concern about
his pain management with opioids and past alcohol abuse (a
record of a visit on March 12, 2015), and the summary of his
wife's September 2015 interview. Tr. 81. Dr. Meyers
opined his “[l]imitations [are] primarily physical, not
severe mentally.” Tr. 81.
reconsideration determination, the SSA considered a report
from John Thibodeau, Ph.D., another state-agency consultant.
Tr. 93-100 (Exhibit 3A). He reviewed the records from Circles
of Care up to October 2015. Tr. 90. In his “Findings of
Fact and Analysis of Evidence, ” he describes two
records from Circles of Care. Tr. 93. He identifies the same
mental impairments and provides the same opinions as Dr.
Meyers. Tr. 93-94. Under “Additional Explanation,
” he partially describes the ...