United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
PAMELA C. BOYD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) and Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 15). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B), these motions were referred to the magistrate
judge for issuance of a Memorandum and Recommendation
(“M&R”) for disposition (Doc. No. 17). The
M&R recommends Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment be granted, Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment be denied, and the Commissioner's decision be
reversed with instructions to remand for further proceedings.
Defendant filed objections to the M&R (Doc. No. 18), and
Plaintiff filed a response brief (Doc. No. 19). This matter
is now ripe for review.
reasons set forth, the Court OVERRULES Defendant's
objections, ACCEPTS and ADOPTS the M&R, GRANTS
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, DENIES
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, and REVERSES the
Commissioner's decision and REMANDS this matter pursuant
to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for proceedings
consistent with the M&R and this Order.
does not lodge any specific objections to the procedural
history section contained in the M&R. Indeed, the M&R
acknowledged the parties' briefs indicated no dispute
over the procedural history of this matter. Therefore, the
portion of the M&R entitled “Procedural
History” is hereby adopted and incorporated by
reference as if fully set forth herein. (Doc. No. 17, p. 2).
Standard of Review
Review of a Memorandum and Recommendation
district court may assign dispositive pretrial matters,
including motions for summary judgment, to a magistrate judge
for “proposed findings of fact and
recommendations.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) &
(B). The Federal Magistrate Act provides that a district
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)(C); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).
However, “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). De
novo review is also not required “when a party
makes general or conclusory objections that do not direct the
court to a specific error in the magistrate judge's
proposed findings and recommendations.” Id.
Similarly, when no objection is filed, “a district
court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must
‘only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on
the face of the record in order to accept the
recommendation.'” Diamond v. Colonial Life
& Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005)
(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72, advisory committee note).
Review of a Social Security Appeal
reviewing a Social Security disability determination, a
reviewing court must “uphold the determination when an
[Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)] has applied
correct legal standards and the ALJ's factual findings
are supported by substantial evidence.” Bird v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th
Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is that which “a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d
650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (internal quotation
marks omitted). It “consists of more than a mere
scintilla of evidence but may be less than a
preponderance.” Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d
470, 472 (4th Cir.2012) (internal quotation marks omitted).
In reviewing the record for substantial evidence, the Court
does “not undertake to reweigh conflicting evidence,
make credibility determinations, or substitute our judgment
for that of the ALJ. Where conflicting evidence allows
reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is
disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the
ALJ.” Id. (brackets, citation, and internal
quotation marks omitted).
considering an application for disability benefits, an ALJ
uses a five-step sequential process to evaluate the
disability claim. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4). Pursuant to this five-step process, the
Commissioner asks, in sequence, whether the claimant: (1)
worked during the alleged period of disability; (2) had a
severe impairment; (3) had an impairment that met or equaled
the severity of a listed impairment; (4) could return to his
past relevant work; and (5) if not, could perform any other
work in the national economy. Id.; see also
Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 861 (4th Cir. 2017)
(citing Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th
Cir. 2015)); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4)). The claimant bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four, but the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. See Lewis, 858 F.3d at
861; Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179-80 (4th
the claimant fails to demonstrate she has a disability that
meets or medically equals a listed impairment at step three,
the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to step
four.” Lewis, 858 F.3d at 861. Here, the ALJ
considers the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to determine what is “the
most” the claimant “can still do despite”
physical and mental limitations that affect her ability to
work. Id. § 416.945(a)(1); §
In making this assessment, the ALJ must first identify the
individual's functional limitations or restrictions and
assess his or her work-related abilities on a
function-by-function basis, including the functions'
listed in the regulations. Only after such a
function-by-function analysis may an ALJ express RFC in terms
of the exertional levels of work.
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 179 (citations and quotations
omitted). Once the function-by-function analysis is complete,
an ALJ may define the claimant's RFC “in terms of
the exertional levels of work, sedentary, light, medium,
heavy, and very heavy.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at
*1. See generally 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567,
416.967 (defining ...