United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
ROXANNA M. AANENSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
W. FLANAGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions
for judgment on the pleadings. (DE 15, 20). Pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
72(b), United States Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones, Jr.,
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
adopts the M&R as its own, denies plaintiff's motion,
grants defendant's motion, and affirms defendant's
April 25, 2014, plaintiff protectively filed applications for
a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and
supplemental security income and subsequently filed a claim
for disabled widow's benefits on November 7, 2014, which
subsequent filing was consolidated with the initial claims.
In both applications, plaintiff alleges disability beginning
March 16, 2014. The claims were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Plaintiff requested hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who, after
hearing held November 16, 2015, denied plaintiff's claims
by decision entered December 11, 2015. Following the
ALJ's denial of her applications, plaintiff timely filed
a request for review before the Appeals Council. The Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request, leaving the ALJ's
decision as defendant's final decision. Plaintiff then
filed this action 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,
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 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, 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 March 16, 2014. At step
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: depression; bipolar disorder; anxiety
disorder/panic attacks; posttraumatic stress disorder;
degenerative disc disease; headaches; hypertension; and
obesity. 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 listings
in the regulations.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work with the following restrictions: must be
allowed to stand for one to three minutes after sitting for
one hour and sit for five minutes after standing and/or
walking for 30 minutes; can frequently push/pull and operate
foot controls with the right lower extremity; frequently
push/pull and operate hand controls with both upper
extremities; frequently climb ramps or stairs; occasionally
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently balance;
occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; frequently
handle objects and finger bilaterally; can have no exposure
to unprotected heights, hazardous machinery or moving
mechanical parts; limited to simple, routine, and repetitive
tasks but not at a production rate pace; simple work-related
decisions; few, if any, changes in the routine work setting;
and occasional ...