United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
W. FLANAGAN, United States District Judge
matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions
for judgment on the pleadings. (DE 20, 27). 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
rejects the M&R, grants plaintiff's motion, denies
defendant's motion, and remands for further proceedings.
applied for disability benefits on September 13, 2010,
alleging disability beginning September 9, 2010. This
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. A
hearing was held on August 14, 2012, before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) who determined that plaintiff
was not disabled in a decision dated August 28, 2012. After
the appeals council denied plaintiff's request for
review, plaintiff commenced an action in this court, docketed
as prior related case Thrasher v. Colvin,
7:13-CV-245-FL (E.D. N.C. ). In order entered March 27, 2015,
this court remanded to defendant for reassessment of
plaintiff's allegations regarding pain and for further
explanation regarding the weight given to plaintiff's
treating and examining physicians. See id., 2015 WL
1431702, at *2-6 (E.D. N.C. Mar. 27, 2015).
Appeals Council then directed a new ALJ to offer new hearing
and address new evidence and claims submitted since the date
of last decision. Following hearing before the ALJ on January
28, 2016, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled
in a decision dated March 9, 2016. After the Appeals Council
denied plaintiff's request for further review, plaintiff
commenced the instant action on September 6, 2016.
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 September 9, 2010. At step
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease; fibromyalgia;
scoliosis, status post fusion; carpal tunnel syndrome; mood
disorder; and generalized anxiety disorder. 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
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that during the
relevant time period plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, with
the following limitations:
[Plaintiff] is capable of lifting and/or carrying 10 pounds
occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. She is
capable of standing and/or walking at least 2 hours in an
8-hour workday and sitting about 6 hours in an 8-hour
workday. She is allowed the assistive use of a cane for
ambulation. She can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds;
kneel; or crawl. She can occasionally climb ramps and/or
stairs, balance, stoop and crouch. She is limited to
frequently handling and fingering bilaterally. The claimant
must avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards. She is