United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on the parties' cross motions
for judgment on the pleadings. (DE 28, 30). 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 memorandum and recommendation
(“M&R”), wherein it is recommended that the
court grant plaintiff's motion, deny defendant's
motion, and remand defendant's decision for an award of
benefits. Plaintiff timely filed objection to a statement in
the M&R, and the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For
the reasons that follow, the court adopts the recommendation
of the magistrate judge, albeit on grounds modified as set
forth herein, grants plaintiff's motion for judgment on
the pleadings, denies defendant's motion for judgment on
the pleadings, and remands to defendant for an award of
January 25, 2010, plaintiff protectively filed an application
for disability benefits and supplemental social security
income, alleging disability beginning May 15, 2009. The
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration.
Thereafter, plaintiff requested hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who, after a
October 18, 2011, hearing, denied plaintiff's claims by
decision entered October 28, 2011. Following the ALJ's
denial of her application, plaintiff timely filed a request
for review before the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council
denied plaintiff's request for review, leaving the
ALJ's decision as defendant's final decision.
Following the Appeals Council's denial of review,
plaintiff sought review in this court.
review by this court was pending, on February 12, 2013,
plaintiff protectively filed two additional applications for
disability benefits and supplemental social security income,
alleging disability beginning May 9, 2009. The claims were
denied initially on June 12, 2013, and upon reconsideration
on August 23, 2013. On September 24, 2013, plaintiff
requested hearing before an ALJ.
September 21, 2014, this court entered an order remanding
plaintiff's claims asserted in her January 25, 2010,
application to defendant for further consideration.
Consistent with the court's order, the Appeals Council
issued an order remanding the case for further proceedings.
The order issued by the Appeals Council also directed the ALJ
to consolidate plaintiff's claims with claims asserted in
her February 12, 2013, applications for disability benefits
and supplemental social security income, and issue new
decision on the consolidated claims.
remand, an ALJ held hearing on plaintiff's consolidated
claims on November 26, 2014, and March 19, 2015. The ALJ
denied plaintiff's consolidated claims by decision dated
April 29, 2015. The ALJ's decision became defendant's
final decision when the Appeals Council denied review on
April 7, 2016. Plaintiff commenced the instant action on June
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 it 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. § 636(b)(1).
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] ...