United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Northern Division
W. FLANAGAN United States District Judge
matter comes before the court on the parties'
cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (DE 20, 24).
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., issued a memorandum and recommendation
(“M&R”) (DE 26), wherein it is recommended
that the court deny plaintiff's motion, grant
defendant's motion, and affirm the final decision by
defendant. Plaintiff timely filed an objection to the
M&R, to which defendant replied. In this posture, the
issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the reasons that
follow, plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings
is denied, and defendant's motion for judgment on the
pleadings is granted.
January 21, 2015, plaintiff protectively filed an application
for supplemental security income, alleging disability
beginning May 7, 2013. The application was denied initially
and upon reconsideration. A hearing was held on May 18, 2017,
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) who
determined that plaintiff was not disabled in decision dated
June 8, 2017. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to
the appeals council. On July 25, 2018, the appeals council
denied plaintiff's request for review, making
defendant's decision final with respect to
plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff filed the instant action on
September 24, 2018, seeking judicial review of
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, which should include 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 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
recommendation.” 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 medial
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, 654 n.1 (4th Cir.
2005) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520). The burden of proof
is on the social security claimant during the first four
steps of the inquiry, but shifts to the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”) at the fifth
step. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir.
instant matter, the ALJ performed the sequential evaluation.
At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 21, 2015,
plaintiff's application date. (Transcript of the Record
(“Tr.”) 19). At step two, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had the following severe impairments: seizure
disorder; alcohol abuse; and hypertension. (Tr. 19). However,
at step three, the ALJ determined that these impairments were
not severe enough to meet or, either individually or in
combination, medically equal one of the listed impairments in
the regulations (“listings” or “listed
impairments”). (Tr. 19); see 20 C.F.R. §
404, Subpt. P, App. 1 [hereinafter “Listing of
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that during the
relevant time period plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform ...