United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, District Judge.
This matter comes before the court on the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (DE 18, 22). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), United States Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones, Jr. issued a memorandum and recommendation ("M&R"), (DE 25), 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 objections to the M&R, (DE 26), and defendant's response time has expired. In this posture, the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the reasons discussed herein, the court adopts the M&R and grants defendant's motion.
Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits on August 23, 2010, alleging disability beginning February 28, 2010. His claim was denied both initially, and upon reconsideration. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on June 25, 2012, who denied plaintiff's application by order dated July 26, 2012. Subsequently, on October 1, 2013, the Appeals Council denied review. Plaintiff filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis on November 26, 2013. On December 2, 2013, that motion was granted and the clerk filed complaint seeking review of the final administrative decision that same day. (DE 5).
A. Standard of Review
This court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision denying benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In conducting this review, 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] means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quotation 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]." 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. This five-step process 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 [his] past relevant work; and (5) the claimant can perform other specified types of work.
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 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 plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since February 28, 2010. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe medical impairments: glaucoma and adjustment disorder. However, at step three, the ALJ determined plaintiff's severe impairments were not enough, individually or in combination, to meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in the regulations.
Prior to proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work, subject to the following limitations: work that does not require fine visual acuity, but can require gross vision; no exposure to hazards such as dangerous machinery; and the ability to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks and non-production work. At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work. (Id. at 20). Nevertheless, at step five, upon consideration of plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, in addition to the testimony of plaintiff's vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ concluded plaintiff was capable of adjusting to the demands of other employment opportunities that exist in ...