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LEPAK v. BARNHART

April 18, 2002

MELVIN LEPAK, ON BEHALF OF BARBARA A. LEPAK, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF, VS. JO ANN B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa, United States District Judge.

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Siragusa, J. The plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") who denied Barbara A. Lepak's application for disability benefits. Before the Court is the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings (docket #4) seeking an order affirming the Commissioner's decision, and plaintiff's motion (docket #9) for either judgment on the pleadings and remand for calculation of benefits, or, in the alternative, remanding the case for further development of the record and application of the proper legal standards. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the plaintiff's motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision and to remand for further development of the record pursuant to sentence six of 42 U.S. Code § 405(g), and denies the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Claimant Barbara A. Lepak ("Decedent") filed an application for disability insurance benefits on March 6, 1998. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. The decedent filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and the hearing was held on December 30, 1998. On March 23, 1999, the ALJ found the decedent retained the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work as a dispatcher.

Following the decedent's death on April 26, 2001, Melvin Lepak, as the decedent's surviving spouse, was substituted as the plaintiff herein pursuant to 42 U.S. Code § 404(d).

The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review on June 1, 2001. The plaintiff commenced a civil action in this Court on July 3, 2001.

III. DECEDENT'S WORK HISTORY

The decedent, who was born on July 11, 1948, claimed she had been disabled since February 1, 1989. She testified before the ALJ that she had been previously employed by IBM as a dispatcher for service calls. She described this employment to the ALJ as "video terminal work." She started that work in June of 1980 and stopped working at that job on July 11, 1988. The dispatching job required her to remain seated in a chair all day, answer the phone, and type information into the computer system. While at work, due to her medical problems, she experienced alterations in vision, blood sugar changes, and vomiting. She also testified that she could not obtain a full night's rest due to her medical difficulties, and, therefore, was unable to maintain a daily work schedule. She was last insured for Social Security benefits as of December 31, 1994.

IV. MEDICAL HISTORY

The decedent was diagnosed with diabetes. From 1980 through April 1993, she was treated periodically by Dr. Newton Galusha. Until the summer of 1986, Dr. Galusha thought that the decedent was relatively asymptomatic as to her diabetes and could work without restrictions. However, according to a report from Dr. Galusha dated December 14, 1988, the decedent experienced increased difficulties during the fall of 1987, and was hospitalized three times for problems related to her diabetes. An EEG test, which was administered to her, showed generalized proximal activity compatible with a seizure disorder. Dr. Galusha described the decedent's primary problem as arising from her complaint of decreased visual acuity, for which he referred her to Dr. Debra Duer. Dr. Galusha opined in his December 14, 1987 letter that her ability to return to work duties depended on her visual acuity.

On September 16, 1988, Dr. Galusha reported that the decedent was suffering from multiple medical problems, including: insulin dependent diabetes; seizure disorder; migraine variant syndrome with visual disturbance; and reoccurring gastrointestinal problems. He additionally detailed sixteen different medications she was taking for these problems.

In January 1990, the decedent was hospitalized again, this time for nausea, vomiting and dehydration. At the time, her diabetes remained under poor control. She experienced a further hospitalization in October 1990 for removal of her right kidney.

During the course of his treatment, Dr. Galusha made extensive notes regarding the decedent's medical complaints, including inability to sleep, diarrhea, depression, seizures, drug reactions and ...


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