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Johnson v. Department of Employment and Economic Development

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

May 28, 2013

Mary L. Johnson, Relator,
v.
Department of Employment and Economic Development, Respondent.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Department of Employment and Economic Development File No. 29828075-3

Jasper D. Berg, IAJ Law, LLC, Woodbury, Minnesota (for relator)

Lee B. Nelson, Colleen Timmer, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent Department of Employment and Economic Development)

Considered and decided by Rodenberg, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Larkin, Judge.

HALBROOKS, Judge

Relator challenges the unemployment-law judge's (ULJ) determination that she was ineligible for benefits from July 2011 until conditions changed because she was unavailable for and not actively seeking suitable employment and because she was retroactively deemed eligible for Social Security disability benefits beginning in January 2012 and did not meet the statutory requirements to simultaneously receive disability and unemployment benefits. Because the ULJ's conclusions are supported by sufficient evidence and because relator's other arguments are not supported by legal argument or authority, we affirm.

FACTS

Relator Mary Johnson worked as a nurse for 34 years until she developed chronic pain in her legs and hips. After being separated from her employment as a full-time registered nurse for Fairview Lakes Regional Healthcare in July 2011, she established a benefits account with respondent Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and applied for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration denied her initial claim, but she prevailed on appeal and was awarded disability benefits retroactive to January 2012.

Johnson learned of this decision in May 2012. She immediately stopped requesting unemployment benefits and notified DEED that she was no longer looking for work. On July 15, 2012, DEED issued a determination of ineligibility on the ground that Johnson was "unwilling or unable to seek or accept gainful employment." It concluded that she had not been eligible for benefits beginning July 11, 2011 "due to her medical condition" and had been overpaid $24, 276.

Johnson appealed, and a telephone hearing was held on July 12, 2012. Johnson initially indicated that she was only appealing the decision that she was ineligible from July 2011 to January 2012, the period in which the Social Security Administration deemed her to be ineligible for disability benefits. At the suggestion of the ULJ, Johnson also argued that she was eligible for partial unemployment benefits from January 2012 until she stopped receiving benefits. The ULJ ruled that Johnson's exhibits were insufficient to qualify her for benefits, but left the record open so that Johnson could provide additional documentation. In a letter subsequently faxed to the ULJ, Johnson's physician stated that he was aware of the basis for Johnson's disability claim and that she "cannot do any bending turning twisting or walking for any length of time. If she had a job that was mostly sitting, she could work 4 hours daily."

The ULJ determined that Johnson did not meet the statutory requirements to receive partial unemployment benefits for the period that she also received disability benefits. The ULJ determined that the statement provided by Johnson's physician indicated that "[t]he limitations provided for Johnson to be able to work do not support that Johnson could be engaged in gainful employment for which she is qualified by experience or training." The ULJ also determined that "Johnson's ability and availability for suitable employment was no different from July 10, 2011 to January 2012, than after January 1, 2012 [when Johnson was deemed eligible for Social Security disability payments]."

The ULJ further concluded that the evidence did not support Johnson's argument that she had been actively seeking work since July 2011. The ULJ found that Johnson's testimony regarding her work search "was not credible because it was general, vague or non-specific, and not convincing." The ULJ affirmed the $24, 276 overpayment. Johnson filed a request for reconsideration, which was denied. This certiorari appeal follows.

DECISION

The eligibility of an applicant for unemployment benefits is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Ress v. Abbott Nw. Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989). We may reverse or modify the ULJ's decision if:

[T]he substantial rights of the petitioner may have been prejudiced because the findings, inferences, ...

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