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Stape v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 14, 2014



MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.


Plaintiff William Stape has filed this action seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Stape's claim for social security disability insurance benefits.

Disability insurance benefits are paid to an individual if that individual is disabled and "insured, " that is, the individual has worked long enough and paid social security taxes. The last date that a claimant meets the requirements of being insured is commonly referred to as the "date last insured." Stape met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2015. Tr. 125.[1]

Stape protectively filed[2] his application for disability insurance benefits on August 26, 2010. Tr. 12. Stape claims that he became disabled on July 31, 2010. Tr. 12, 117. Stape has been diagnosed with a seizure disorder as well as mood and anxiety disorders. Tr. 240, 252-53. Stape has complained of gout to at least two doctors. Tr. 188, 301-02. Stape's application was initially denied by the Bureau of Disability Determination.

On January 6, 2011, Stape requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 12. The ALJ conducted a hearing on December 15, 2011, where Stape was represented by counsel. Tr. 28-53. On January 6, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Stape's application. Tr. 12-20. The Appeals Council delined to grant review on July 2, 2013. Tr. 1. Stape filed a complaint on September 4, 2013. Supporting and opposing briefs were submitted and this case became ripe for disposition on January 8, 2014, when Stape filed a reply brief.

Stape appeals the ALJ's determination on three grounds; (1) the ALJ erred in failing to evaluate Stape's gout, (2) the ALJ erred in failing to give appropriate weight to the medical opinion of Stape's treating physician, and (3) the ALJ erred in failing to find Stape credible. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

Statement of Relevant Facts

Stape is 52 years of age, has obtained a GED and is able to read, write, speak and understand the English language. Tr. 31. Stape also had four years of apprenticeship training with the Local 520 Plumbers and Pipefitters. Id.

Stape spent approximately thirty-one years as a pipe fitter, which was described by a vocational expert as skilled, heavy work. Tr. 48. Stape had been promoted several times, and eventually performed supervisory work, which classified him as a "supervisor of labor gang, " described as skilled, medium work. Id.

Stape initially claimed that three conditions limited his ability to work: seizures, stress, and depression. Tr. 165. In his request for an administrative hearing, Stape alleged his disability related to seizures, balance issues, focus issues, and memory issues. Tr. 87.

A. Physical Impairments

Stape's medical record begins on October 11, 2007 when Stape was accepted as a new patient by William Phelan, M.D. Tr. 188. At his initial intake, Mr. Stape complained of, inter alia, gout. Id . At a second appointment with Dr. Phelan on January 7, 2008, Stape again mentioned that one of the reasons for the appointment was gout. Id . The medical records contain no objective medical findings for a diagnosis of gout.

The administrative record establishes that, in the year prior to filing for disability benefits, Stape suffered from at least three seizures; the first seizure occurred on September 8, 2009, the second seizure occurred on January 8, 2010, and the final seizure occurred on August 7, 2010. Tr. 134, 180-84, 192-208.

No records exist of a hospital visit after Stape suffered his first seizure. However, after Stape's second seizure, he was admitted to the Carlisle Regional Medical Center emergency room. Tr. 180. A physical examination was essentially normal. Tr. 180-84. Stape had a follow-up examination with Dr. Phelan on January 14, 2010. Tr. 187. Dr. Phelan subsequently referred Stape to Mohammad Ismail, M.D. the Carlisle Regional Medical Center. Id.

On January 19, 2010, Dr. Ismail conducted a physical examination and ordered an MRI, neither of which revealed significant abnormalities. Tr. 232-33. On January 25, 2010, an EEG was performed on Stape, which showed no noticeable abnormalities; however, Dr. Ismail did not rule out seizure disorder. Tr. 235.

On August 4, 2010, Stape became a new patient of Alexander Spasic, M.D. Tr. 224. His initial physical examination revealed no abnormalities. Tr. 224-25. Dr. Spasic subsequently became Stape's treating physician.

Following an August 7, 2010 seizure, Stape was treated at the Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. Tr. 192. Neither a physical examination nor a CT scan revealed any significant abnormalities. Tr. 192-93.

On August 18, 2010, Dr. Ismail performed a follow-up examination of Stape. Tr. 239. Dr. Ismail diagnosed Stape with a seizure disorder. Tr. 240.

On September 29, 2010, Dr. Spasic completed a Medical Source Statement of Stape's ability to perform work-related physical activities. Tr. 215. Dr. Spasic stated that Stape had no limitations with respect to his lifting or carrying, pushing or pulling, or sitting abilities. Tr. 215. Dr. Spasic also opined that Stape was limited in standing or walking to one hour or less in an eight hour day, and that Stape was able to bend, kneel, stoop, and crouch frequently, although he should never ...

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