United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, District Judge.
This matter comes before the court on the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings (DE 27, 29). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), United States Magistrate Judge James E. Gates issued a memorandum and recommendation ("M&R") (DE 32), wherein it is recommended that the court deny plaintiff's motion, grant defendant's motion, and that the final decision by defendant be affirmed. Plaintiff timely filed an objection to the M&R and the response time has expired. In this posture, the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the reasons that follow, the court adopts the recommendation of the magistrate judge.
Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income on April 13, 2010, alleging disability beginning May 15, 2007. This application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. A video hearing was held on September 6, 2011, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who determined that plaintiff was not disabled in a decision dated September 21, 2011. The appeals council denied plaintiff's request for review on October 31, 2012, and plaintiff filed the instant action on December 31, 2012.
A. Standard of Review
The court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the Commissioner's final decision denying benefits. The court must uphold the factual findings of the ALJ "if they are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standard." Craig v. Chater , 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). "Substantial evidence is... such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quotations omitted). The standard is met by "more than a mere scintilla of evidence but... less than a preponderance." Laws v. Celebrezze , 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966).
To assist it in its review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits, the court may "designate a magistrate judge to conduct hearings... and to submit... proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition [of the motions for judgment on the pleadings]." See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The parties may object to the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations, and the court "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." Id . § 636(b)(1). Absent a specific and timely filed objection, the court reviews only for "clear error, " and need not give any explanation for adopting the M&R. Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co. , 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005); Camby v. Davis , 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir.1983). Upon careful review of the record, "the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
The ALJ's determination of eligibility for Social Security benefits involves a five-step sequential evaluation process, which asks whether:
(1) the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) the claimant has a medical impairment (or combination of impairments) that are severe; (3) the claimant's medical impairment meets or exceeds the severity of one of the impairments listed in [the regulations]; (4) the claimant can perform [her] past relevant work; and (5) the claimant can perform other specified types of work.
Johnson v. Barnhart , 434 F.3d 650, 654 n.1 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520). The burden of proof is on the claimant during the first four steps of the inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth step. Pass v. Chater , 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
In the instant matter, the ALJ performed the sequential evaluation. At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 13, 2010, the date of her application. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: right knee impairment, right shoulder impairment, and bipolar disorder. However, at step three, the ALJ further determined that these impairments were not severe enough to meet or medically equal one of the impairments in the regulations. Prior to proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work, including lifting and carrying up to ten pounds occasionally and lesser amounts frequently, sitting for six hours in an eight-hour day, and occasionally standing and walking. The ALJ found plaintiff can perform activities such as occasionally climbing stairs or ramps, ladders, ropes or scaffolds, balancing, kneeling, crouching, crawling, reaching overhead, and frequent stooping. The ALJ also found plaintiff can perform simple, repetitive, routine tasks. In making this assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff's statements about her limitations not fully credible. At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. At step five, upon considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, the ALJ determined that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff is capable of performing.
Plaintiff objects to the M&R's conclusion that the ALJ properly considered her impairments in determining her RFC. Specifically, she argues that the ALJ did not take note of relevant findings in plaintiff's medical records that support greater limitations regarding her right shoulder and hand. Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ did not address portions of medical examinations that occurred in March 2011 and April 2011, along with a report from a MRI on plaintiff's right shoulder performed ...