United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
W.FLANAGAN United States District Judge
matter is before the court on the parties’
cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (DE 14, 16).
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 72(b), United States Magistrate Judge James
E. Gates, entered a memorandum and recommendation
(“M&R”), wherein it is recommended that the
court deny plaintiff’s motion, grant defendant’s
motion, and affirm defendant’s decision. Plaintiff
timely filed objections to the M&R, and the issues raised
are ripe for ruling. For the reasons that follow, the court
rejects the recommendation in the M&R, albeit adopting
certain parts of its analysis, and remands to defendant for
December 18, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income, alleging disability beginning September 13, 2012. The
application was denied both initially and upon
reconsideration. Thereafter, plaintiff filed a request for
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), who, after an October 7, 2014, hearing,
denied plaintiff’s claims by order entered December 15,
2014. Following the ALJ’s denial of her applications,
plaintiff timely filed a request for review with the Appeals
Council. On October 21, 2015, the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff’s request for review; thus, the ALJ’s
decision became the final decision of defendant. This action
Standard of Review The court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) to review defendant’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). In
reviewing for substantial evidence, the court is not to
“re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute [its] judgment” for
defendant’s. Craig, 76 F.3d at 589.
necessary predicate to engaging in substantial evidence
review is a record of the basis for the ALJ’s
ruling,” including “a discussion of which
evidence the ALJ found credible and why, and specific
application of the pertinent legal requirements to the record
evidence.” Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288,
295 (4th Cir. 2013). An ALJ’s decision must
“include a narrative discussion describing how the
evidence supports each conclusion,” Monroe v.
Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 190 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting
Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir.
2015)), and an ALJ “must build an accurate and logical
bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.”
Id. at 189 (quoting Clifford v. Apfel, 227
F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000)).
assist it in its review of defendant’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). The court does
not perform a de novo review where a party makes only
“general and conclusory objections that do not direct
the court to a specific error in the magistrate’s
proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v.
Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). 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 & Accident 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).
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 [his or 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).
instant matter, the ALJ performed the sequential evaluation.
At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since September 13, 2012. At
step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: systemic lupus erythematosus, obesity,
and cervical degenerative disc disease. However, at step
three, the ALJ further determined that these impairments were
not severe enough, either individually or in combination, to
meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments
(“listings” or “listed impairments”)
in the regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt.
P, App.1 [hereinafter “Listing of Impairments”].
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that during the
relevant time period plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with the
following limitations: lift and carry up to 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sit for six hours;
stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday;
frequently handle and finger; occasionally climb ladders,
ropes, and scaffolds; frequently climb stairs, stoop, crouch,
kneel, and crawl. In making this assessment, the ALJ found
plaintiff’s statements about her limitations and pain
not fully credible. At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff
was able to perform her past relevant work as a machine
packer. At step five, the ALJ determined that jobs exist in
significant numbers that plaintiff is capable of performing.
Thus, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled under
the terms of the Social Security Act. B. Analysis Plaintiff
objects to the M&R’s treatment of the following
issues: the ALJ’s assignment of very little weight to
the opinion of plaintiff’s treating nurse practitioner;
the ALJ’s credibility determination relating to
plaintiff’s allegations of pain; and the ALJ’s
failure to address ...