While in the army, Ms. Gibson-Jones worked in personnel services where she performed filing, typing, record maintenance, and computer programming. Tr. 51. Ms. Gibson-Jones also did combat training which required strenuous physical activity. Tr. 51. Before enlisting in the army, Ms. Gibson-Jones worked as a sales clerk at Marshall Fields. Tr. 52. In March of 1992, Ms. Gibson-Jones took a job as a secretary at a hospital. Tr. 50. She quit after a week because she "wasn't able to handle the duties." Tr. 50. Ms. Gibson-Jones has not worked since then. Tr. 50, 52.
Ms. Gibson-Jones's health problems began in November of 1987 when she gave birth to her first child by cesarean section. Tr. 52. After this birth she experienced pain, fainting spells, and bleeding. Tr. 52. In September of 1990, Ms. Gibson-Jones underwent a laparoscopic tubal ligation during which the surgeon discovered that her uterus had been lacerated and sutured onto her abdominal wall. Tr. 271. She was then diagnosed with severe pelvic adhesive disease. Tr. 465. After experiencing chronic pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea and dyspareunia,
she ultimately had a total abdominal hysterectomy in January of 1991. Tr. 216, 224. Subsequently she had an ultrasound performed which showed a hypoechogenic lesion located immediately superior and slightly anterior to the dome of the urinary bladder. Tr. 496. She continued to experience more pelvic pain and dyspareunia. Tr. 216. Treatment notes from August of 1991 indicate that Ms. Gibson-Jones was restricted from heavy lifting and activities requiring quick movements. Tr. 445.
In October of 1991, Ms. Gibson-Jones was again hospitalized and diagnosed with severe dysmenorrhea and severe dyspareunia with diffuse, extensive pelvic adhesive disease. Tr. 415. A sonogram revealed a predominately cystic mass in the left lower quadrant and a small mass in the right lower quadrant. Tr. 215.
In November of 1991, Ms. Gibson-Jones was admitted to the hospital for chronic pelvic pain and diagnosed with endometriosis. Tr. 166-67. She refused a laparoscopy to correct the problem, instead choosing medication. Tr. 167. Thereafter, Ms. Gibson-Jones continued to complain of pain to her doctors. On October 15, 1992, a pelvic ultrasound revealed a small left ovarian cyst. Tr. 346. On May 6, 1993, Ms. Gibson-Jones underwent an exploratory laparotomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. Tr. 322. A benign pelvic mass was removed during the surgery. Tr. 330-31.
Ms. Gibson-Jones testified that the various surgical procedures she had undergone had not corrected her problems and that she was concentrating, on tier doctors' recommendation, on "pain management." Tr. 53-54. She described her pain as sharp and sometimes intense and stated that it was constantly present. Tr. 54. She stated that to alleviate the pain, she would lie down and take percocet, tylenol-3, and Motrin. Tr. 55. These medications make her dizzy, drowsy, and nauseated to the point that she can barely walk. Tr. 55. She testified that the side effects of the medication lasted approximately two to three hours. Tr. 58. Despite its side effects, she continues to take this medication on a daily basis. Tr. 56. She testified that without the medication, she is in extreme pain. Tr. 58.
Ms. Gibson-Jones testified that she could sit comfortably for one to one and one-half hours, and could stand comfortably for two to two and one-half hours before needing to change positions. Tr. 60-61. She stated that she needed to lie down with her feet elevated twice a day. Tr. 61. She also complained that she needed help with her three young children and with grocery shopping. Tr. 65. She stated that her cousin was staying with her to provide this help. Tr. 65.
At the time of the hearing, Ms. Gibson-Jones was attending college, taking 13 credit-hours, through a vocational rehabilitation program with the Veterans' Administration. Tr. 47. She maintained a grade point average of 3.75. Tr. 57. When asked how she was able to attend classes if she endured such severe pain and medication side-effects, Ms. Gibson-Jones stated that she attended class for about an hour in the morning, went home for three hours to take her medication and nap, and then went back to school for two more hours of class. Tr. 56. She also stated that she stood often and never had to sit for a long time at school. Tr. 61. She testified that she had class from 9:00 to 9:50 and then again from 1:00 to 2:50. Tr. 56. She stated that she had missed three months of classes the previous semester. Tr. 57. She testified that she was able to do well at school, however, by keeping up with her assignments at home. Tr. 58. She testified that she was pursuing a professional degree so that she would be able to find a job with flexible work hours. Tr. 70.
G. Robert McClellan, a vocational expert, testified at the hearing before the ALJ. Tr. 76. He classified her previous work as skilled. Tr. 76 He stated that Ms. Gibson-Jones had acquired clerical skills in her past work that would transfer to sedentary jobs as a telephone quotation clerk, receptionist, order clerk, cashier, posting clerk, transcript clerk, classification clerk, and credit clerk. Tr. 78. He stated that there would be a minimum of 2,000 such jobs in the region, and there would be over 100,000 such jobs in the nation. Tr. 78. According to Mr. McClellan, these jobs would allow flexibility in changing positions from sitting to standing and walking. Tr. 79. He admitted that if Ms. Gibson-Jones needed to lie down, as she testified, she would not be able to perform such work. Tr. 79.
A. Standard of Review
The Social Security Act provides for limited judicial review of final decisions of the Commissioner. The role of this court is only to determine whether the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wolfe v. Shalala, 997 F.2d 321, 322 (7th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). "Substantial evidence" means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 480 (7th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). In determining whether the Secretary's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the district court may not "reevaluate the facts, reweigh the evidence, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Luna v. Shalala, 22 F.3d 687, 689 (7th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). Rather, the court must affirm a decision supported by substantial evidence in the absence of an error of law. Herr v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 178, 180 (7th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted); Edwards v. Sullivan, 985 F.2d 334, 336-37 (7th Cir. 1993).
After consideration of the entire record, ALJ Bono concluded that Ms. Gibson-Jones was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. 31. He found that Ms. Gibson-Jones retains the residual functional capacity to do sedentary work. Tr. 31. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). The ALJ further concluded that the skills she had acquired in the army would permit her to perform available jobs in the national economy. Tr. 31. See 20 C.F.R. § 1520(f).
B. Sequential Evaluation
In order to qualify for Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income Benefits, a claimant must be disabled. Pope, 998 F.2d at 477. The Act defines a "disabled" individual as one who is unable
to engage in 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 than twelve months.
42 U.S.C. § 432(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. To satisfy this definition, an individual must have a severe impairment which makes her unable to perform her previous work or any other substantial gainful activity which exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1505.
The Social Security regulations require the factfinder to follow a five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The Seventh Circuit has summarized the test as follows:
The [Commissioner] must determine in sequence: (1) whether the claimant is currently employed; (2) whether she has a severe impairment; (3) whether her impairment meets or equals one listed by the [Commissioner]; (4) whether the claimant can perform her past work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy. Once the claimant has satisfied Steps One and Two, she will automatically be found disabled if she suffers from a listed impairment. If the claimant does not have a listed impairment but cannot perform her past work, the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to show that the claimant can perform some other job.