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 25, 30). 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
30, 2014, plaintiff protectively filed an application for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income. In both applications, plaintiff alleged disability
beginning June 5, 2014. The claims were denied initially and
upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who,
after a January 12, 2017, hearing where a vocational expert
(“VE”) appeared and testified, denied
plaintiff's claims by decision entered March 30, 2017.
Following the ALJ's denial of her applications, 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 June 13,
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. § 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 June 5, 2014. At step two,
the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”),
bone spurs, bilateral plantar fasciitis, and major depressive
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 light work, subject
to the following additional limitations: never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally kneel, crouch, crawl, climb
ramps/stairs, balance, and stoop; avoid all exposure to
hazardous machinery and unprotected heights; frequent
bilateral gross and fine manipulation; sitting or standing as
desired, such as in bench work occupations; and, mentally,
plaintiff is limited to simple, routine tasks with occasional
interaction with the public and co-workers, and occasional
over the shoulder supervision. At step four, the ALJ
concluded plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant
work. At step five, the ALJ determined that 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
objects to the magistrate judge M&R 1) finding no error
in the ALJ's assessment of medical evidence from
plaintiff's treating and examining physicians, 2) finding
evidence sufficient for meaningful review of the ALJ's
RFC determination, and 3) finding no error in the