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Roundtree v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division

January 30, 2017

ROSE M. ROUNDTREE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JAMES C. FOX Senior United States District Judge.

         Before the court are the following:

(1) the Memorandum and Recommendation ("M&R") [DE-20] of United States Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones, Jr.; and
(2) the parties' cross Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-15, -17].

         The issues have been fully briefed, and the matter is now ripe for ruling. For the reasons addressed below, this court ADOPTS the findings and recommendations of the Magistrate Judge, Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-15] is DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-17] is ALLOWED, and the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. The Magistrate Judge's M&R

         1. Legal Standard

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). This court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the recommendation to which specific objections are made, and the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the Magistrate Judge's recommendation, or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In the absence of a timely-filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must "only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Diamond v. Colonial Life & Ace. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).

         On December 6, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a M&R, in which he recommended that Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-15] be denied, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-17] be allowed, and the Commissioner's final decision be affirmed. The Magistrate Judge advised the parties of the procedures and requirements for filing objections to the M&R and the consequences if they failed to do so. Plaintiff filed Objections [DE-21] to the M&R, to which Defendant filed a Response [DE-22].

         2. Plaintiffs Objections to the M&R

         Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that her case is distinguishable from Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th Cir. 2015), because in Plaintiffs case, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") did not just limit her to simple, routine, repetitive tasks, "but added additional limitations to account for [Plaintiffs] difficulties in maintaining attention and concentration, and [she] has not demonstrated how these additional restrictions are inadequate." Pl.s' Objections [DE-21] at 2 (quoting M&R [DE-20] at 7).

         In Mascio, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that remand was warranted for three distinct reasons, only one which is relevant here. 780 F.3d at 632. In particular, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the hypothetical posed by the ALJ to the vocational expert ("VE"), and the corresponding residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment, failed to include any mental limitations other than "unskilled work," yet at step three of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that the claimant had "moderate difficulties in maintaining her concentration, persistence, or pace as a side effect of her pain medication." Id. at 637-38. The Fourth Circuit held that it "agree[d] with other circuits that an ALJ does not account for a claimant's limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace by restricting the hypothetical question to simple, routine tasks or unskilled work." Id. at 638 (quoting Winschel v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 631 F.3d 1176, 1180 (11th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations marks omitted).

         In this case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff "had shown a decreased ability in attention and concentration but not to the extent that a marked finding is appropriate and she can still perform simple, repetitive, routine tasks." (Tr. 39). In the ALJ's RFC assessment and corresponding hypothetical to the VE, the ALJ limited Plaintiff to "simple routine repetitive tasks with no fast pace, only brief and superficial contact with ...


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