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 19, 27). Pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
72(b), United States Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones, Jr.,
entered 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. Plaintiff timely
filed objections to the M&R, and the issues raised are
ripe for ruling. For the reasons that follow, the court
adopts the M&R as its own, grants defendant's motion,
denies plaintiff's motion, and affirms defendant's
April 30, 2012, plaintiff protectively filed an application
for supplemental security income payments, alleging
disability beginning April 4, 2008. The application was
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a
request for hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), who, after a October 22, 2014, hearing,
denied plaintiff's claims by decision entered August 26,
2015. Following the ALJ's denial of his
application, plaintiff timely filed a request for review, and
the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for
review, leaving the ALJ's decision as defendant's
final decision. Plaintiff then filed a complaint in this
court on May 11, 2017, seeking review of defendant's
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] past relevant work; and (5) the claimant
can perform other specified types of work.
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 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 the amended alleged onset
date of January 3, 2014. At step two, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had the following severe impairments: history of
fracture of the left femur and ankle, depression, and
personality disorder. However, at step three, the ALJ further
determined that these impairments were not severe enough,
either individually or in combination, to meet or medically
equal one of the listings in the regulations.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that during the
relevant time period plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at the medium
exertional level with the following limitations: work does
not include the preparation or serving of food consumed by
others; understand, remember, and perform work tasks at GED
Reasoning Level 03; perform goal-oriented rather than
production-oriented work (e.g., the performance of work tasks
in allotted time is more important that the pace at which the
work tasks are performed); perform work in which independent
goal setting or planning occurs no more than frequently;
perform work that involves routine tasks (i.e., no more than
frequent changes in core work duties); can have frequent
contact with the general public.
four, the ALJ concluded plaintiff had no past relevant work,
but in considering plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, determined there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff
can perform. Thus, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not
disabled under the terms of the Social Security Act.
challenges the magistrate judge's findings that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's 1) evaluation of
plaintiff's symptoms and impairments; 2) determination of
plaintiff's RFC; 3) evaluation of plaintiff's
credibility; and 4) formulation of hypothetical questions to