United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on the parties' cross-motions
for judgment on the pleadings. (DE 18, 20). Pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
72(b), United States Magistrate Judge Kimberly A. Swank
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, denies plaintiff's motion, and grants
November 2010, plaintiff protectively filed an application
for disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application
for supplemental security income. In both applications,
plaintiff alleged disability beginning January 1, 2008. The
claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
Plaintiff requested hearing before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”), who held an evidentiary hearing on
February 25, 2013. The ALJ denied plaintiff's claims by
decision entered April 18, 2013. Following the ALJ's
denial of her applications, plaintiff timely filed a request
for review before the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council
entered an order dated June 17, 2014, remanding the case for
further administrative action.
September 16, 2015, plaintiff received another evidentiary
hearing before a different ALJ. On June 24, 2016, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff again
requested review by the Appeals Council. On May 8, 2017, the
Appeals Council entered additional evidence submitted by
plaintiff into the record, and denied plaintiff's request
for review. At that time, the decision of the ALJ became
defendant's final decision. Plaintiff then filed this
action seeking judicial review.
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 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). “[T]he ALJ must both identify evidence that
supports his conclusion and ‘build an accurate and
logical bridge from [that] evidence to his
conclusion.'” Woods v. Berryhill, 888 F.3d
686, 694 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting Monroe v. Colvin,
826 F.3d 176, 189 (4th Cir. 2016)); Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015) (holding an
ALJ's decision must “include a narrative discussion
describing how the evidence supports each conclusion”).
assist 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. §
ALJ's determination of eligibility for benefits involves
a five-step sequential evaluation process, which asks
(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 plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2008.
(Transcript of the Record (“Tr.”) 18). At step
two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: idiopathic gastroparesis; pelvic inflammatory
disease; major depressive disorder; anxiety disorder;
obsessive-compulsive disorder (“OCD”);
obsessive-compulsive personality disorder; borderline
intellectual functioning; and bipolar disorder. (Tr. 18). At
step three, the ALJ determined ...