United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
Carlton Tilley, Jr. Senior United States District Judge.
August 25, 2016, the United States Magistrate Judge's
Memorandum Opinion and Recommendation
(“Recommendation”) was filed and notice was
served on the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636. [Doc.
#14.] Plaintiff Sybil Carter timely objected. [Doc. #15.]
After consideration of the evidence of record, this Court
finds that the Commissioner of Social Security's
(“Commissioner”) decision is supported by
substantial evidence, and as a result, will overrule Ms.
Carter's objections and adopt the Recommendation.
law authorizes judicial review of the Commissioner's
denial of social security benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Hines v. Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 561 (4th Cir.
2006). However, the scope of review of such a decision is
“extremely limited.” Frady v. Harris,
646 F.2d 143, 144 (4th Cir. 1981). “The courts are not
to try the case de novo.” Oppenheim v. Finch,
495 F.2d 396, 397 (4th Cir. 1974). Instead, “a
reviewing court must uphold the factual findings of the
if they are supported by substantial evidence and were
reached through application of the correct legal
standard.” Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470,
472 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation omitted).
evidence means ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d
31, 34 (4th Cir. 1993) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971)). “It consists
of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat
less than preponderance.” Mastro v. Apfel, 270
F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted). “If there is evidence to
justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a
jury, then there is substantial evidence.”
Hunter, 993 F.2d at 34 (internal quotation marks
reviewing for substantial evidence, the court should not
undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility
determinations, or substitute its judgment for that of the
[ALJ].” Mastro, 270 F.3d at 176 (internal
brackets and quotation marks omitted). “Where
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to
whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that
decision falls on the ALJ.” Hancock, 667 F.3d
Carter filed an application for Social Security Disability
Benefits on April 25, 2012 alleging a disability onset date
of November 1, 2008. (Tr. at 262.) Ms. Carter's
application was initially denied on May 11, 2012 and upon
reconsideration on July 23, 2012. (Tr. at 114, 140-141.) Ms.
Carter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), which was held on May 9, 2014. (Tr. at
72.) Ms. Carter, her attorney, and a vocational expert
(“VE”) attended the hearing. (Id.) In an
opinion dated July 25, 2014, the ALJ found that Ms. Carter
did not qualify as disabled. (Tr. at 49-66.) Ms. Carter
appealed the ALJ's finding to the Appeals Council. On
November 5, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Carter's
request for review. (Tr. at 1-6.)
the Appeals Council denied review, Ms. Carter brought this
action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act,
as amended (42 U.S.C. § 405(g)) and 42 U.S.C. §
1383(c)(3), to obtain judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying her claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act. (Compl. [Doc. #1].) Commissioner filed an
Answer. [Doc. #6.] Subsequently, Ms. Carter filed a Motion
for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. #10] and supporting
Memorandum [Doc. #11]. Commissioner then filed a Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. #12] and supporting
Memorandum [Doc. #13]. The Recommendation was filed on August
25, 2016 and Ms. Carter filed her objections. [Docs. #14,
15.] Thus, this case is ripe for review.
Carter objects to the Recommendation with regard to three
issues: (1) the Magistrate Judge erred in confirming the
ALJ's determination that Ms. Carter does not meet or
medically equal Listing 1.04, Disorders of the Spine, and
engaged in improper fact-finding to do so, (2) the Magistrate
Judge erred in not finding improper the ALJ's failure to
accord appropriate weight to the opinion evidence in the
record, and (3) the Magistrate Judge erred in confirming the
ALJ's determination that Ms. Carter can perform a limited
range of light work. (Pl.'s Objs. to Rec. of U.S.
Magistrate Judge “Pl.'s Objs.” [Doc. #15].)
Carter first argues that the ALJ erred in finding that her
impairments did not meet or medically equal Listing 1.04,
Disorders of the Spine. (Id. at 3-5.) Ms. Carter
cites to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal's decision in
Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288 (4th Cir. 2013) in
support of her assertion that remand is required where the
ALJ “simply state[d] in a conclusory fashion that a
plaintiff's impairments do not meet a listing.”
(Id. at 3.) Like the present action,
Radford involved an alleged Disorder of the Spine,
but in a different context. Radford concerned the
ALJ adding a temporal proximity component in order to find
someone disabled under Listing 1.04. The Fourth Circuit found
that there is not a proximity component and remand was
appropriate because of that issue. The Radford court
went on to find that
A full explanation by the ALJ is particularly important in
this case because Radford's medical record includes a
fair amount of evidence supportive of his claim; indeed,
there are five years of medical examinations, and there is
probative evidence strongly suggesting that Radford meets or
equals Listing 1.04A.
Id. at 295. Yet, the present record does not support
Ms. Carter's contention that Radford instructs
that her case be remanded. She is correct that the ALJ's
report does not give a thorough explanation of why he did not
think she met Listing 1.04 nor a thorough application of the
record to the listing criteria and the Recommendation
acknowledges both these issues. (Tr. at 56; R & R. [Doc.
#14] at 13.) But unlike the record in Radford, Ms.
Carter's medical record does not “include a fair
amount of evidence supportive of [her] claim.”
Radford, 734 F.3d at 295.
there are three ways a claimant can be determined disabled
under Listing 1.04.
1.04 Disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus
pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis,
osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis,
vertebral fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root
(including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord. With:
A. Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by
neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of
the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle
weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex
loss and, if there is involvement of the ...