United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division
J. Conrad, Jr. United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion
for Judgment on the Pleadings and supporting memorandum,
(Doc. Nos. 9, 10); Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment and memorandum in support, (Doc. Nos. 15, 16); the
Magistrate Judge's Memorandum and Recommendation
(“M&R”), (Doc. No. 17), recommending that
this Court grant the Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment; Plaintiff's Objections to the M&R, (Doc.
No. 18); and Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's
Objections to the M&R, (Doc. No. 19).
Leslie Lee Meadows (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial
review of Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Defendant”
or “Commissioner”) denial of his social security
claim. In May 2014, Plaintiff applied for Disability
Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“SSA”) and Supplemental Security Income under
Title XVI of the SSA. (Doc. No. 8 to 8-8: Administrative
Record (“Tr.”) at 208, 216). Initially, Plaintiff
alleged that he became disabled on November 27, 2013 due to
degenerative disc disease, blood clot disease, and atrial
fibrillation. (Id.). Later, prior to a hearing held
on October 20, 2015, Plaintiff amended his alleged disability
date to January 29, 2014. (Id. at 228). The ALJ
found that Plaintiff was not disabled according to the
standards of the SSA from January 29, 2014 through December
29, 2015, the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id.
at 26-34). Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's
decision by the Appeals Council, but the Appeals Council
denied the request, consequently making the ALJ's
decision the Defendant's final decision. (Id.
at. 1). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the decision
under section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
Magistrate Judge filed an M&R on March 3, 2017,
concluding that the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on all
the evidence on record, including Plaintiff's complaints
and the opinions of Dr. Alexander Powers. (Doc. No. 17 at 7).
Therefore, the Magistrate Judge recommended that
Plaintiff's motion be denied and the Social Security
Administration's motion be granted. (Id. at 9).
Plaintiff filed an Objection to the M&R on March 17,
2017. (Doc. No. 18). On March 31, 2017, Defendant filed a
Reply to Plaintiff's Objection to the M&R. (Doc. No.
19). The pending motions are ripe for adjudication.
party has objected to the Magistrate Judge's statement of
the factual background of this case. Therefore, the Court
adopts the facts as set forth in the M&R.
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.
review of the Commissioner's decision, the SSA, 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) and § 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); see also Hunter v.
Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992) (per curiam).
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); Blalock v. Richardson, 483
F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). As the Social Security Act
provides, “[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to
any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In Smith v.
Heckler, the Fourth Circuit noted that
“substantial evidence” has been defined as being
“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.”
782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986) (quoting
Perales, 402 U.S. at 401) (brackets in original);
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 . . .
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; Blalock,
483 F.2d at 775. 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).
objects to the M&R, asserting two arguments. First,
Plaintiff asserts that the Magistrate Judge erred in
confirming the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's
RFC. (Doc. No. 18 at 2-6). Second, Plaintiff argues that the
Magistrate Judge erred in finding that the ALJ did not abuse
his discretion when he offered Plaintiff a closed period of
disability at a hearing only to later issue an unfavorable
decision. (Id. at 6-9). After review of the record,