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 16, 20). 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 final decision. Plaintiff timely filed an
objection 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
January 29, 2013, plaintiff filed applications for a period
of disability, disability insurance benefits, and
supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning
January 28, 2013. The applications were denied both initially
and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), who, after an October 24, 2014, hearing,
denied plaintiff's claims by decision entered December
19, 2014. 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 a complaint in this court on March 31, 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 January 28, 2013, her
alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: a disorder of the
spine, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension. However, at step
three, the ALJ determined that these impairments were not
severe enough, viewed either individually or in combination,
to meet or medically equal one of the listings in the
regulations. Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ
determined that during the relevant time period, plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform medium work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1567(c) and 416.967(c), with the following limitations:
occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds;
occasionally stoop and crouch; and must avoid concentrated
exposure to hazards, such as working around unprotected
heights and dangerous machinery. In making this assessment,
the ALJ found plaintiff's statements concerning the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms
to be “not entirely credible.” (Tr. 19). At step
four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff was able to perform her
past relevant work as a nurse assistant, rubber good
finisher, finisher, and hand packager. The ALJ did not make a
formal finding at step ...