United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
W. FLANAGAN United States District Judge.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions
for judgment on the pleadings. (DE 17, 19). Pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
72(b), United States Magistrate Judge Robert T. Numbers, II,
entered 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 adopts the M&R as its own,
grants defendant's motion, denies plaintiff's motion,
and affirms defendant's final decision.
2, 2012, plaintiff filed application for period of disability
and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability
beginning August 11, 2011. The application was denied both
initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request
for hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), who, after a November 6, 2014, hearing,
denied plaintiff's claims by decision entered January 27,
2015. Following the ALJ's denial of her applications,
plaintiff timely filed a request for review with the Appeals
Council, which denied the request, leaving the ALJ's
decision as defendant's final decision. Plaintiff then
filed complaint in this court on January 8, 2016, seeking
review of defendant's decision.
Standard of Review
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,
189 (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. (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 August 11, 2011. At step
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: sarcoidosis, hypertension, and obesity. 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 listings
in the regulations.
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: occasionaly climb ladders, scaffolds,
or ropes; frequently climb ramps and stairs; frequently
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and/or crawl; and avoid
concentrated exposure to temperature extremes of cold and
heat, as well as pulmonary irritants such as fumes, odors,
dust, gases, poor ventilation and to hazards such as
unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. In making this
assessment, the ALJ found plaintiff's statements about
her limitations not fully credible. At step four, the ALJ