United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
Richard L. Voorhees, United States District Judge
MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Plaintiff Crystal Elise
Lemmonds' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 11)
and Defendant Social Security Commissioner Nancy A.
Berryhill's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 13). Also
before the Court are Plaintiff's Objections to
Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge David C.
Keesler, to whom the motions were referred for recommended
disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). (Docs.
Magistrate Judge, in a Memorandum and Recommendation filed
February 21, 2017, recommended that Plaintiff's motion be
denied, that Defendant's motion be granted, and that the
Commissioner's decision be affirmed. (Doc. 15 at 11).
Plaintiff filed her Objections (Doc. 16) and Defendant
responded (Doc. 17). For the reasons that follow, the
Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc.
11) is DENIED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 13) is GRANTED, and the Commissioner's decision is
seeks review of Administrative Law Judge Lawrence Levey's
(“ALJ”) December 30, 2014 decision, which
determined Plaintiff was not disabled under Social Security
Act Title II (disability insurance benefits) or Title XVI
(supplemental security income). (Transcript of the Record of
Proceedings (“Tr.”) 141; see Tr. 238
(Title XVI application summary), 244 (Title II application
summary)). Neither party has objected to the Magistrate
Judge's statement of the procedural history of the case
as set out on pages 1-3 of the Memorandum and Recommendation
(“M & R”). (Doc. 15 at 1-3). The Court adopts
the M & R's procedural background, supplemented by
the Court as set out below.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Magistrates Act requires a district court to
“make a de novo determination of those portions of the
magistrate judge's report or specified proposed findings
or recommendations to which objection is made.”
Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co.,
416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)) (emphases and brackets omitted). Nonetheless, a
district judge is responsible for the final determination and
outcome of the case, and accordingly the undersigned has
conducted a careful review of the Magistrate Judge's
Memorandum and Recommendation as well as a de novo
review of the matters raised in Plaintiff's Objections.
district court's review of the Commissioner's final
decision is limited to the following two issues: (1) whether
the Commissioner's factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence; and (2) whether the Commissioner
applied the correct legal standards. Hancock v. Astrue,
667 F.3d 470, 472 (4th Cir. 2012); see 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). As long as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate the evidence in support of the Commissioner's
decision, the Court should not reweigh the evidence or
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Hancock, 667 F.3d at 472.
substantial evidence is not a “large or considerable
amount of evidence, ” Pierce v. Underwood, 487
U.S. 552, 565 (1988), it is “more than a scintilla and
it must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of a
fact to be established, ” Smith v. Heckler,
782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)) (brackets and
internal quotation marks omitted). “The substantial
evidence standard ‘presupposes a zone of choice within
which the decisionmakers can go either way, without
interference by the courts. An administrative decision is not
subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence would
have supported an opposite decision.'” Dunn v.
Colvin, 607 F. App'x 264, 266 (4th Cir. 2015)
(ellipsis omitted) (quoting Clarke v. Bowen, 843
F.2d 271, 272-73 (8th Cir. 1988)).
question before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was
“disabled, ” as that term is defined for Social
Security purposes, under Title II or Title XVI of the Social
Security Act. (Tr. 131). To make that determination, the ALJ
must proceed through a sequential five-step evaluation
process.The ALJ in the proceeding below concluded
at Step One that Plaintiff was not engaged in substantial
gainful activity, at Step Two that Plaintiff had a severe
combination of impairments, and at Step Three that Plaintiff
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 133-35). The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff had the following severe
combination of impairments: degenerative joint disease,
degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, obesity, possible
rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, substance abuse,
anxiety disorder, and affective disorder. (Tr. 134). As a
consequence of his determinations, the ALJ was required to
proceed to Step Four. Prior to making a decision at Step
Four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), finding that she could perform
sedentary work with the following limitations: she required
the option of alternating at her election between sitting and
standing in increments of approximately 20-30 minutes; she
could only occasionally utilize her lower extremities for
pushing, pulling, or operation of foot controls; she could
only occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, and stoop;
she was precluded from climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds,
and from kneeling, crouching, and crawling; she could engage
in frequent but not constant gross and fine manipulation; and
she required a low stress working environment, defined as
being limited to the performance of simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks, in a work environment free of fast-paced
production requirements, involving only simple work-related
decisions, with few, if any, changes in the workplace. (Tr.
Four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform
past relevant work in light of Plaintiff's RFC. (Tr.
139). Thus, the ALJ reached Step Five, which required a
determination of whether, considering Plaintiff's RFC,
age, education, and work experience, she could make an
adjustment to other work. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). Finding that
“there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform, ”
the ALJ decided that Plaintiff was not disabled under Title
II or Title XVI. (Tr. 140-41). The M & R recommended that
this decision be affirmed. (Doc. 15 at 11).
requests a general de novo determination of her
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and of the
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 16 at 1).
She further states that “[t]he grounds for
[Plaintiff's] objections appear in the Memorandum filed
in support of her Motion for Summary Judgment [sic], with
additional grounds stated” in her Objections.
(Id.). Specifically, Plaintiff's Objections are:
(1) Judge Keesler erred in affirming ALJ Levey's
determination that Ms. Lemmonds can perform a limited range
of sedentary work; and
(2) Judge Keesler erred in affirming ALJ Levey's improper
credibility determination. (Doc. 16 at 2, 6). The Court will