United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
JAMES O. DAVIS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings. (DE 17, 21). 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 23). Plaintiff timely objected
to the M&R, (DE 24), and defendant made no response.
Therefore, the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the
reasons that follow, the court adopts in part the M&R,
rejects it in part, and remands to defendant for further
protectively filed two applications for disability benefits
July 12, 2013, alleging disability beginning April 16, 2012.
Both applications were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. Thereafter, plaintiff requested hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who,
after hearing held May 29, 2015, denied plaintiff's
claims June 25, 2015. Following the ALJ's denial of his
application, plaintiff timely requested review before the
Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review August 11, 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 April 16, 2012. At step
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and
lumbar spine; soft tissue injuries, status-post motor vehicle
accident; history of right femur fracture; obesity; and an
affective 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 sedentary work, with
the following limitations: has the capacity to lift and
carry, push and pull up to ten pounds frequently and 20
pounds occasionally, and to stand and walk for up to two
hours in an eight-hour workday, and to sit for six hours in
an eight-hour workday; could never climb ladders, scaffolds,
or ropes, occasionally climb ramps and would need to avoid
concentrated exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights
and dangerous machinery; would need the flexibility to use a
hand held assistive device such as a cane while walking;
could understand, remember, and carry out simple
instructions, which is defined to mean activity that is
consistent with a reasoning level of “two” or
“three” as defined in the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles; could sustain attention and
concentration sufficient to carry out those simple
instructions over the course of an eight-hour workday; could