United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Eastern Division
W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. (DE 16, 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 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. (DE 24). Plaintiff timely objected
to the M&R, (DE 25), and defendant made no response.
Therefore, the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the
reasons that follow, the court rejects the recommendation in
the M&R and remands to defendant for further proceedings.
applied for disability benefits May 22, 2012, alleging
disability beginning January 1, 2009. The application was
denied both initially and upon reconsideration. Thereafter,
plaintiff requested hearing before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”), who, after hearing held June 16,
2014, denied plaintiff's claims October 3, 2014.
Following the ALJ's denial of her application, plaintiff
timely requested review before the Appeals Council. The
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review
March 15, 2016, leaving the ALJ's decision as
defendant's final decision. Plaintiff then filed a
complaint in this court seeking judicial review.
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,
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.” Monroe, 826 F.3d at 189 (quoting
Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir.
assist 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. §
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 March 22, 2012. At step
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease, depression, anxiety,
and a cognitive disorder. At step three, the ALJ determined
that these impairments were not severe enough, either
individually or in combination, to meet or medically equal
one of the listed impairments in the regulations.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App.1.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that during the
relevant time period plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work, with the
following limitations: cannot work around concentrated
exposure to hazards; can perform simple, routine, repetitive
tasks; should avoid performing production-based work and work
requiring quotas. At step four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff
was unable to perform her past relevant work as a sales
person and department manager. At step five, the ALJ
determined that jobs exist in the national ...