United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Donna Kay Gill's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) and Defendant
Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A.
Berryhill's (“Commissioner”) 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 denied, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary
Judgment be granted, and the Commissioner's decision
affirmed. Plaintiff filed objections to the M&R (Doc. No.
18), and Defendant filed a response (Doc. No. 19). This
matter is now ripe for review.
reasons set forth, the Court OVERRULES Plaintiff's
objections, ACCEPTS and ADOPTS the M&R, DENIES
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, GRANTS the
Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment, and AFFIRMS
the Commissioner's decision.
does not lodge any specific objections to the procedural
history section contained in the M&R. Indeed, the M&R
adopts the procedural history as stated by the parties.
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 at 1).
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.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 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) (citations
omitted). De novo review is also not required
“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. (citations omitted).
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 When 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
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.
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 “sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very
heavy” exertional requirements of work).
When assessing the claimant's RFC, the ALJ must examine
“all of [the claimant's] medically determinable
impairments of which [the ALJ is] aware, ” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1525(a)(2), 416.925(a)(2), “including
those not labeled severe at step two.” Mascio,
780 F.3d at 635. In addition, he must “consider all
[the claimant's] symptoms, including pain, and the extent
to which [her] symptoms can reasonably be accepted as
consistent with the objective medical evidence and other
evidence, ” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(a),
416.929(a). “When the medical signs or laboratory
findings show that [the claimant has] a medically
determinable impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected
to produce [her] symptoms, such as pain, [the ALJ] must then