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Hornal v. Berryhill

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

February 16, 2017

MONICA L. HORNAL, Plaintiff/Claimant,
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-23] of United States Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones, Jr.; and
(2) the parties' cross Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-17, -19].

         The issues have been fully briefed, and the matter is now ripe for ruling. For the reasons addressed below, this court ADOPTS in part the findings and recommendations of the Magistrate Judge, Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-17] is ALLOWED, and Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-19] is DENIED. This case will be REMANDED to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this order.

         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 January 13, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a M&R, in which he recommended that Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-17] be denied, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE-19] be allowed, and the Commissioner's final decision be upheld. 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-24] to the M&R, to which Defendant filed a Response [DE-27].

         2. Plaintiffs Objections to the M&R

         a. Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was not required to assess whether her sarcoidosis met or equaled Listing 3.02C.

         In her first objection, Plaintiff argues that the Magistrate Judge's finding that the ALJ was not required to discuss her pulmonary test results is inconsistent with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' holdings in Cook v. Heckler, 783 F.2d 1168 (4th Cir. 1986), and Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288 (4th Cir. 2013). Objections [DE-24] at 1. According to Plaintiff, without such an explanation, it is simply impossible to determine if the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Id. at 1-2.

         At step one in the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 15, 2013, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 16). Then, at step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs sarcoidosis, [2] depression/bipolar disorder, and anxiety were "severe" impairments.[3] (Tr. 16). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (Tr. 16-17). In coming to this conclusion, the ALJ addressed the application of Listings 3.02A and 3.02B, but he did not address Listing 3.02C, except to say, "[f]urther the record shows that the claimant does not have chronic impairment of gas exchange due to ...


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