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 20, 22).
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 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 final decision.
November 17, 2014, plaintiff protectively filed a Title II
application for disability benefits, and on November 24,
2014, plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for
supplemental security income. In both applications, plaintiff
alleged disability beginning May 8, 2014. The claim was
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff
requested hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), who, after a June 20, 2017, video
hearing, denied plaintiff’s claim by decision entered
July 21, 2017. Following the ALJ’s denial of the claim,
plaintiff timely requested 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 June 22,
2018, seeking review of defendant’s decision.
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. §
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 May 8, 2014, the alleged
onset date. (Transcript of the Record (“Tr.”)
18). At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: “degenerative joint disease, knees;
migraine headaches; history of stroke; and pseudobulbar
symptoms.” (Tr. 18). The ALJ also found non-severe
impairments: “depression, obesity, and substance
addiction.” (Tr. 18). At step three, the ALJ 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. (Tr. 20).
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that during the
relevant time period plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to ...