United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge
Vickie Diane Harper brought this action for review of
defendant Nancy A. Berryhill's (the commissioner's)
final decision denying her claim for supplemental security
income (SSI) and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under
the Social Security Act (the Act). See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) (2012) (authorizing a district court to enter
judgment “affirming, modifying, or reversing the
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security”). The
parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which the
court referred to United States Magistrate Judge Robert S.
Ballou for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B). In his report, the magistrate judge
concluded that substantial evidence supported the
commissioner's decision. (Dkt. No. 20.) Harper timely
objected, and the commissioner filed a response to the
objections. (Dkt. Nos. 21, 22.) After de novo review of the
pertinent portions of the record, the report, and the filings
by the parties, in conjunction with applicable law, the court
agrees with, and will adopt in full, the magistrate
judge's recommendation. Accordingly, defendant's
motion for summary judgment will be granted, and
plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be denied.
court adopts the recitation of facts and procedural
background as set forth in the report. (Report 2-4, Dkt. No.
Standard of Review
court's review of the administrative law judge's
(ALJ) underlying decision is limited. Specifically,
“[a] district court's primary function in reviewing
an administrative finding of no disability is to determine
whether the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial
evidence.” Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517
(4th Cir. 1987). Substantial evidence does not require a
“large or considerable amount of evidence, ”
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 564- 65 (1988);
rather, it requires “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971). This is “more than a mere scintilla of
evidence [and] somewhat less than a preponderance.”
Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir.
as here, a matter has been referred to a magistrate judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), this court reviews de
novo the portions of the report to which a timely objection
has been made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3) (“The district
judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate
judge's disposition that has been properly objected
to.”); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667,
673-74 (1980) (finding that de novo review of the
magistrate's report and recommendation comports with due
order for an objection to trigger de novo review, though, it
must be made “with sufficient specificity so as
reasonably to alert the district court of the true ground for
the objection.” United States v. Midgette, 478
F.3d 616, 622 (4th Cir. 2007). See also Page v. Lee,
337 F.3d 411, 416 n.3 (4th Cir. 2003)
(“[P]etitioner's failure to object to the
magistrate judge's recommendation with the specificity
required by the Rule is, standing alone, a sufficient basis
upon which to affirm the judgment of the district court as to
this claim.”). Further, objections must respond to a
specific error in the report and recommendation. See
Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982).
General or conclusory objections, therefore, are not proper;
they are in fact considered the equivalent of a waiver.
Id. Likewise, an objection that merely repeats the
arguments made in the briefs before the magistrate judge is a
general objection and is treated as a failure to object.
Moon v. BWX Techs, 742 F.Supp.2d 827, 829 (W.D. Va.
2010), aff'd, 498 F. App'x 268 (4th Cir.
2012) (citing Veney v. Astrue, 539 F.Supp.2d 841,
844-46 (W.D. Va. 2008)).
raises three objections to the report, and they all concern
issues raised in her brief before the magistrate judge.
Indeed, she even cites to her own brief and relies on it in
her briefing. (Pl.'s Obj. 1, 5.) But she also cites to
specific portions of the record that she believes refute the
report's conclusions, and she specifically addresses
statements in the report that she believes were erroneous.
Thus, the court will address her objections and apply a de
novo standard of review.
26, 2014, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Harper's
claim, ultimately concluding that Harper was ineligible for
benefits. In reaching his decision, the ALJ followed the
five-step process found in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920 (2016) The five-step evaluation asks the following
questions, in order: (1) whether the claimant is working or
participating in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether
the claimant has a severe impairment of the duration required
by 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 416.909; (3) whether she
has a type of impairment whose type, severity, and duration
meets the requirements listed in the statute; (4) whether she
can perform her past work, and if not, what her residual
functional capacity (RFC) is; and (5) whether work exists for
the RFC assessed to the claimant. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The claimant bears the burden
of proof at steps one through four to establish a prima facie
case for disability. At the fifth step, the burden shifts to
the commissioner to establish that the claimant maintains the
RFC, considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and impairments, to perform available alternative
work in the local and national economies. 42 U.S.C. §
case, Harper met the insured status requirements of the Act
through December 31, 2014, and she was not working at the
time of the alleged onset date of January 12, 2012, through
the date of the ALJ's decision. (ALJ Decision,
Administrative Record (R.) 16-17, Dkt. No. 9-1.) At step two,
the ALJ found that Harper suffered from the severe
impairments of right knee chondromalacia; common migraine
disorder, partially controlled with medications; history of
possible seizure disorder; generalized arthritis; asthma;
major depressive disorder; unspecified anxiety disorder; and
mild early onset of posttraumatic stress disorder.
(Id. at 17.) The ALJ then found that Harper's
impairments did not meet or medically equal any listed
then evaluated Harper's RFC, considering all of her
impairments. In determining Harper's RFC, he limited her
to less than the full range of sedentary work and included a
number of very specific and detailed limitations to account
for her numerous impairments. (Id. at 19.) Based on
her RFC, the ALJ determined that Harper was not capable of
performing past relevant work as a certified nursing
assistant. (Id. at 27-28.) He determined, though,
that considering her age, education, work experience, and
RFC, Harper was capable of performing other jobs that exist
in the national economy at the unskilled light level of
exertion, such as addresser, final assembler, and film
touch-up inspector. (Id. at 28-29.) He ...