United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
J. Conrad, Jr., United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion
for Summary Judgment and Supporting Memorandum, (Doc. Nos.
11, 12); Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and
Supporting Memorandum, (Doc. Nos. 13, 14); the Magistrate
Judge's Memorandum and Recommendation of Remand
(“M&R”), (Doc. No. 15), recommending that
Plaintiff's motion be granted and the matter be remanded;
and Defendant's Objection to the Magistrate Judge's
M&R, (Doc. No. 16).
party has objected to the Magistrate Judge's statement of
the factual and procedural background of this case.
Therefore, the Court adopts the facts as set forth in the
STANDARD OF REVIEW
district court may assign dispositive pretrial matters
pending before the court to a magistrate judge for
“proposed findings of fact and recommendations.”
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The Federal Magistrate Act
provides that “a district court shall make a de novo
determination of those portions of the report or specific
proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is
made.” Id. at § 636(b)(1)(C); Camby
v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983). Under Rule
72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a district
court judge shall make a de novo determination of any portion
of an M&R to which specific written objection has been
made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Nonetheless, “when objections
to strictly legal issues are raised and no factual issues are
challenged, de novo review of the record may be dispensed
with.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47
(4th Cir. 1982). Similarly, de novo review is not required by
the statute “when a party makes general and conclusory
objections that do not direct the court to a specific error
in the magistrate's proposed findings and
recommendations.” Id. Ultimately, a district
judge is responsible for the final determination and outcome
of the case, and accordingly this Court has conducted a
careful review of the Magistrate Judge's M&R.
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3), limits this Court's review of a final
decision of the Commissioner to: (1) whether substantial
evidence supports the Commissioner's decision,
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 401
(1971), and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the correct
legal standards, Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453,
1456 (4th Cir. 1990). The District Court does not review a
final decision of the Commissioner de novo. Smith v.
Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986); King
v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir. 1979). As the
Social Security Act provides, if the Commissioner's
findings as to any fact are supported by substantial
evidence, they shall be conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
see also Seacrist v. Weinberger, 538 F.2d 1054,
1056-57 (4th Cir. 1976) (“We note that it is the
responsibility of the [Commissioner] and not the courts to
reconcile inconsistencies in the medical evidence . . .
.”). “Substantial evidence has been defined as
more than a scintilla and [it] must do more than create a
suspicion of the existence of a fact to be established. It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Smith
v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986)
(alteration in original) (quoting Perales, 402 U.S.
at 401). However, substantial evidence may be somewhat less
than a preponderance. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996).
Fourth Circuit has long emphasized that it is not for a
reviewing court to weigh the evidence again, nor to
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner,
assuming the Commissioner's final decision is supported
by substantial evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456;
see also Smith, 795 F.2d at 345. Indeed, this is
true even if the reviewing court disagrees with the
outcome-so long as there is substantial evidence in the
record to support the final decision below. Lester v.
Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982).
assigns error to the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) failure to consider Plaintiff's
mental limitations when assessing Plaintiff's Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Doc. No. 12 at 8).
The Magistrate Judge agreed with the Plaintiff and
recommended remand. (Doc. No. 15 at 7). The Defendant objects
to the legal standard applied in the M&R. (Doc. No. 16 at
2). As discussed below, the Court disagrees with the M&R,
agrees with Defendant, and affirms the Commissioner's
is solely responsible for assessing a claimant's RFC. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1546(c), 416.946(c). In making that
assessment, the ALJ must consider the functional limitations
resulting from the claimant's medically determinable
impairments. Social Security Ruling (“SSR”)
96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *2. Furthermore, the ALJ must
consider the combined effect of all the claimant's
impairments without regard to the severity of each individual
impairment. Hines v. Bowen, 872 F.2d 56, 59 (4th
Cir. 1989). The ALJ must then “include a narrative
discussion describing how the evidence supports each
conclusion, citing specific medical facts . . . and
nonmedical evidence.” SSR 96-8p.
Mascio v. Colvin the Fourth Circuit held
“remand may be appropriate . . . where an ALJ fails to
assess a claimant's capacity to perform relevant
functions, despite contradictory evidence in the record, or
where other inadequacies in the ALJ's analysis frustrate
meaningful review.” 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015).
Even if the ALJ concludes that a limitation does not affect a
claimant's RFC, the ALJ must still include a discussion
in her narrative explaining how such conclusion was reached.
Patterson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 846
F.3d 656, 663 (4th Cir. 2017). Said differently, the ALJ must
show her work. Id. As such, boilerplate language
from step two is no substitute for a thorough discussion of
the ALJ's analysis at step four. SSR 96-8p.
Magistrate Judge's M&R recommends remanding this case
because the ALJ's decision failed to consider
Plaintiff's mental limitations when assessing
Plaintiff's RFC in light of Mascio. This Court
disagrees. First, this case differs from Mascio.
Here, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had mild
difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence or pace,
while the plaintiff in Mascio had moderate
restrictions. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 638; (Tr. 18-20).
This Court does not interpret Mascio's holding
as applying to all restrictions. Brooks v.
Berryhill, No. 3:15-CV-00440-RJC, 2017 WL 1196449, at *4
(W.D. N.C. Mar. 29, 2017) (holding that “Mascio dealt
with ‘moderate' restrictions and did not hold that
all restrictions, including mild restrictions, be explicitly
discussed in terms of RFC.”). See also Gilbert v.
Berryhill, No. 5:16-CV-00100-MOC, 2017 WL 1196452, at *3
(W.D. N.C. Mar. 29, 2017) (citing Roberson v. Colvin
for the proposition that Mascio did not apply to
cases of mild difficulties); Roberson v. Colvin, No.
3:14-cv-00488-MOC, 2016 WL 5844148, at *6 (W.D. N.C. Oct. 4,
2016) (finding that, because the case “concerns only
‘mild difficulties, ' it [did not] trigger the RFC
discussion requirements of Mascio per
the ALJ left no ambiguities in how they reached their
determination of Plaintiff's RFC. The ALJ assigned
Plaintiff mild limitations in regard to concentrations,
persistence, and pace. (Tr. 20). In doing so, the ALJ
emphasized how little Plaintiff was affected. Plaintiff
enjoyed reading, watching the news, solving crossword
puzzles, and even learned how to knit-hobbies the ALJ said
illustrate “good concentration.” (Id.).
Plaintiff also received a consultative examination which
showed that her intellectual functioning was
“normal.” (Id.). While the ALJ
acknowledges Plaintiff's anxiety disorder, they concluded