approximately 7,300 suitable Sedentary Hand Assembler jobs in Illinois, with about twenty percent of these jobs found in the central Illinois area. R. at 298.
The ALJ's Decision
On March 29, 1995, ALJ Barbara Welsch issued a written opinion denying Connor's disability claims. The ALJ concluded that "the evidence . . . establishes that the claimant has a 'severe impairment,'" but found that this impairment was not equivalent to the criteria of any of the impairments listed in the regulations at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. R. at 10. Consequently, the ALJ moved to the next step in the analysis for disability, determining whether Connor had the residual functional capacity ("REC") to perform any past relevant work. Id. To make this determination, the ALJ reviewed the medical evidence in the record. Id.
The ALJ concluded that the record did not support Connor's claim that he suffered from depression. R. at 11. She pointed to the fact that Connor denied current mental problems at the hearing, and that there was no suggestion of depression in the record pertaining to the time in which Connor was claiming disability. Id. The ALJ also found that Connor was not impaired by his asthma, noting that Connor himself said that his asthma was not bothering him. Id.
With respect to Connor's diabetes, however, the ALJ determined that "the medical evidence supports significant functional limitations." R. at 12. However, not all of the evidence in the record was consistent with respect to the extent that Connor's diabetes limited his ability to work. The restrictions reported by Dr. Vad varied notably from those restrictions claimed by Connor at the hearing. Id. In her evaluation of this evidence, the ALJ found that "the conclusions of Dr. Vad carry significant weight in view of his status as a treating physician and the frequent treatment rendered by him to the claimant." Id. She also determined that Connor's testimony seemed "exaggerated, and motivated by his desire to obtain benefits." Id.
Although the ALJ found Dr. Vad's conclusions to be more credible that Connor's, she noted that Dr. Vad's conclusions were not entirely consistent throughout the record. Id. The ALJ believed that "the interpretation of Dr. Vad's report that is most logical and most consistent with the medical evidence and the claimant's daily activities is that he can work for eight hours a day with a sit/stand option." Id.
The ALJ concluded that Connor's RFC was consistent with that required for sedentary work, except that Connor could not work in a sitting position for more than four hours a day. R. at 13. Since the VE reported that there were a substantial number of jobs in the regional economy which Connor could perform, the ALJ entered a finding of not disabled. R. at 15.
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
According to the Social Security Act, a person is eligible for disability benefits if he or she: is insured for disability benefits, has not attained retirement age, has filed an application for disability insurance benefits, and is under a disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). "Disability" is defined as the "inability to engage is any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less that twelve months . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also Lee v. Sullivan, 988 F.2d 789, 792 (7th Cir. 1993). A claimant is under a disability "only if his physical or mental 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 . . . in significant numbers in the region where such individual lives or in several regions in the country." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
The Social Security Regulations outline a five-step inquiry to be followed when determining whether a claimant is disabled: (1) is the claimant presently unemployed; (2) is the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments severe; (3) does the impairment meet or exceed any of the list of specific impairments that the Secretary acknowledges to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity; (4) if the impairment has not been listed by the Secretary as conclusively disabling, is the claimant unable to perform his former occupation; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past occupation, is the claimant unable to perform other work in the national economy in light of his age, education and work experience. Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993).
"A negative conclusion at any step (except for step three) precludes a finding of disability. An affirmative answer at steps one, two or four leads to the next step. An affirmative answer at steps three or five results in a finding of disability." Shields v. Sullivan, 801 F. Supp. 151, 155 (N.D. Ill. 1992). Upon reaching the fifth step, the rules in the Medical Vocational Guidelines of Regulation part 404, subpart P, appendix 2 (the "Grid") must be considered. Id. The Grid rules incorporate an analysis of the vocational factors of age, education, and work experience in combination with the claimant's RFC-defined in Social Security Ruling 83-10 as a "medical assessment of what a person can do in a work setting despite functional limitations and environmental restrictions imposed by his or her medically determinable impairment(s)." "RFC is expressed in terms of a claimant's maximum sustained work capability for either 'sedentary,' 'light,' 'medium,' 'heavy,' or 'very heavy' work as those terms are defined by Reg. § 404.1567." Shields, 801 F. Supp. at 155. In determining if work is available for the claimant in the national economy, the ALJ may use a VE, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566(e), and if there is work available, then a finding of not disabled must result. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f)(1), 404.1566(b).
Standard of Review
Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act provides that a district court "shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Secretary, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The statute further provides that "the findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . ." Id. Substantial evidence means "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Luna v. Shalala, 22 F.3d 687, 689 (7th Cir. 1994) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971)). Thus, a reviewing court will not "reevaluate the facts, reweigh the evidence or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Secretary." 22 F.3d at 689.
Connor's objections to the ALJ's findings can be grouped into three main contentions. First, he maintains that the ALJ improperly evaluated the extent of his impairments, which were so severe that they met one of the listing requirements. Second, he contends that his RFC was improperly assessed. Finally, he challenges the ALJ's conclusion that there were other jobs in the relevant region that he could perform.
Extent of Connor's Impairments
If a claimant has an impairment which meets or is medically equivalent to one of the list of specific impairments found in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1, the Social Security Administration must make a finding of disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d); Shields, 801 F. Supp. at 155. The ALJ found that Connor did not have an impairment which met or was equivalent to any of the listings. R. at 14. Connor contends that he meets listing 5.08(B)(4) which provides:
5.08 Weight loss due to any persisting gastrointestinal disorder: . . . With: