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 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
declines to follow the recommendation of the magistrate
Judge, grants plaintiff's motion to remand, and denies
defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings.
December 20, 2012, plaintiff protectively filed an
application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning
December 17, 2012. The applications were denied initially and
upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who,
after an October 14, 2014, hearing, denied plaintiff's
claims by decision entered January 21, 2015. Following the
ALJ's denial of her applications, plaintiff timely filed
a request for review with the Appeals Council. The Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review, leaving
the ALJ's decision as defendant's final decision.
Plaintiff then filed a complaint in this court on July 5,
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, 653 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 December 17, 2012. At step
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: osteoarthritis, right shoulder rotator tear,
right heel spur and plantar fasciitis, sarcoidosis, 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 plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform a narrow range of light work, in that plaintiff is
capable of lifting/carrying and pushing/pulling 20 pounds
occasionally, lifting/carrying and pushing/pulling 10 pounds
frequently but can only lift 5 pounds with her right upper
extremity; can sit for 6 hours and can stand or walk for 6
hours in an 8-hour day, but requires a sit/stand option where
she can stand/walk 45 minutes at one time and sit 15 minutes
at one time; cannot reach behind her back or overhead with
the right upper extremity; and cannot work in environments
with concentrated exposure to respiratory irritants, such as
dust, fumes, and smoke. At step four, the ALJ concluded
plaintiff was not able to perform any past relevant work. At
step five, the ALJ concluded that considering plaintiff's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were other
jobs that existed in ...