United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
BETSY W. MASSEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendants.
J. CONRAD, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER comes before the Court on the parties'
cross Motions for Summary Judgment, (Doc. Nos. 9, 14); the
Magistrate Judge's Memorandum and Recommendation
(“M&R”), recommending that this Court uphold
the decision of the Commissioner, (Doc. No. 17);
Plaintiff's Objections to the M&R, (Doc. No. 18);
Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Objections, (Doc.
No. 19); and the parties' briefs and exhibits in support.
The motions are ripe for adjudication.
party has objected to the Magistrate Judge's statement of
the factual and procedural background of this case.
Therefore, the Court adopts the facts as set forth in the
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Review of the Magistrate Judge's M&R
district court may assign dispositive pretrial matters to a
magistrate judge for “proposed findings of fact and
recommendations.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and
(B). The Federal Magistrate Act provides that “a
district court shall make a de novo determination of those
portions of the report or specific proposed findings or
recommendations to which objection is made.”
Id. at § 636(b)(1)(C); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3);
Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983).
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.
Review of a Final ALJ Decision under the Social Security
Court must decide whether substantial evidence supports the
final decision of the Commissioner and whether the
Commissioner fulfilled her lawful duty in her determination
that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security
Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1382(c).
SSA, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3), limits
this Court's review of a final decision of the
Commissioner to (1) whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's decision, Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971); and (2) whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards, Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990); see
also Hunter v. Sullivan, 993 F.2d 31, 34 (4th Cir. 1992)
(per curiam). The district court does not review a final
decision of the Commissioner de novo. Smith v.
Schweiker, 795 F.2d 343, 345 (4th Cir. 1986);
King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th
Cir. 1979); Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775
(4th Cir. 1972). As the SSA provides, “[t]he findings
of the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). In Smith v. Heckler, the Fourth
Circuit noted that “substantial evidence” has
been defined as being “more than a scintilla and
[do]ing more than creat[ing] a suspicion of the existence of
a fact to be established. It means such relevant evidence as
a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” 782 F.2d 1176, 1179 (4th Cir. 1986)
(quoting Perales, 402 U.S. at 401); see also
Seacrist v. Weinberger, 538 F.2d 1054, 1056-57 (4th Cir.
1976) (“We note that it is the responsibility of the
[Commissioner] and not the courts to reconcile
inconsistencies in the medical evidence . . . .”).
Fourth Circuit has long emphasized that it is not for a
reviewing court to weigh the evidence again, nor to
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner,
assuming the Commissioner's final decision is supported
by substantial evidence. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456;
see also Smith v. Schweiker, 795 F.2d at 345;
Blalock, 483 F.2d at 775. Indeed, this is true even
if the reviewing court disagrees with the outcome-so long as
there is “substantial evidence” in the record to
support the final decision below. Lester v.
Schweiker, 683 F.2d 838, 841 (4th Cir. 1982).
makes three objections to the M&R: (1) the ALJ did not
give legally sufficient reasons supported by substantial
evidence for finding Plaintiff's testimony not entirely
consistent; (2) the ALJ did not explain how he found
Plaintiff is capable of light level work for two-hour
intervals on a sustained basis in the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”); and (3) the ALJ accepted
testimony from the VE which appears to conflict with the DOT
yet failed to obtain an explanation from the VE. The second
and third objections were general regurgitations of arguments
already advanced in Plaintiff's initial briefing
accompanying her summary judgment motion. The M&R already
considered and analyzed those arguments. After conducting a
de novo review of the M&R, Plaintiff's Objections
thereto, and the record, the Court agrees with the
M&R's analysis and overrules the second and third
objections. Thus, the Court incorporates the M&R's
discussion of those arguments herein.
Plaintiff's first objection, although Plaintiff also made
the same general argument in her initial briefing, she lodged
a more specific allegation of error in her objection:
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to evaluate her ability
to use her hands. And Plaintiff asserts that if the ALJ had
properly evaluated Plaintiff's ability to handle and
finger, he would have reached a different ...