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Uitts v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

March 2, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.



         The claimant Kent Douglas Uitts requests judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for benefits under the Social Security Act. The claimant appeals the decision of the Commissioner and asserts that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining he was not disabled. As discussed below, the undersigned Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS that the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED and the case REMANDED to the ALJ for further proceedings.

         Social Security Law and Standard of Review

         Disability under the Social Security Act is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A claimant is disabled under the Social Security Act “only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(2)(A). Social security regulations implement a five-step sequential process to evaluate a disability claim. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.[2]

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's determination is limited in scope by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This Court's review is limited to two inquiries: whether the decision was supported by substantial evidence, and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See Hawkins v. Chater, 113 F.3d 1162, 1164 (10th Cir. 1997) [citation omitted]. The term “substantial evidence” requires “‘more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). However, the Court may not reweigh the evidence nor substitute its discretion for that of the agency. See Casias v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 933 F.2d 799, 800 (10th Cir. 1991). Nevertheless, the Court must review the record as a whole, and “[t]he substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951); see also Casias, 933 F.2d at 800-01.

         Claimant's Background

         The claimant was born on February 1, 1958, and was fifty-six years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing (Tr. 38). He earned a GED, and has worked as a security guard (Tr. 29, 201). The claimant alleges he has been unable to work since September 1, 2007, due to an operation on his right shoulder and back problems (Tr. 200).

         Procedural History

         On January 14, 2013, the claimant applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-85. His application was denied. ALJ Lantz McClain held an administrative hearing and determined the claimant was not disabled in a written decision dated October 31, 2014 (Tr. 22-30). The Appeals Council denied review, so the ALJ's written decision represents the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of this appeal. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.

         Decision of the Administrative Law Judge

         The ALJ made his decision at step four of the sequential evaluation. He found that the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), i. e., he could lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand/walk and sit for six hours during an eight-hour workday, but that he should avoid work requiring exposure to extreme cold, vibrations, and hazardous machinery, as well as avoid working in an environment with high dust or fumes (Tr. 26). The ALJ thus concluded that the claimant could return to his past relevant work as a security guard (Tr. 29).


         The claimant contends that the ALJ erred by: (i) failing to properly weigh the medical evidence, specifically a treating physician opinion; (ii) improperly assessing his credibility; and (iii) failing to adequately consider his obesity. The undersigned Magistrate Judge agrees with the claimant's second contention, and the Commissioner's decision should be reversed.

         The ALJ determined that the claimant had the severe impairments of history of compression fracture in the thoracic spine, degenerative joint disease of the right acromioclavicular joint, status post right collar bone fracture with surgery, impingement syndrome in the left shoulder, hypertension, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, asthma, and obesity (Tr. 274). The medical evidence reveals that the claimant was admitted to the emergency room at Greater Regional Medical Center in Creston, Iowa on June 19, 2012, after he had been bucked from a horse (Tr. 280). On July 23, 2013, the ...

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