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Her v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 26, 2018

Sai Her, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Defendant.

          David L. Christianson, Christianson Law, Thomas A. Krause, Schott, Mauss & Associates, PLLC, counsel for plaintiff

          Ann M. Bildtsen, United States Attorney's Office, counsel for defendant

          ORDER

          Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Sai Her appeals the denial of her application for Social Security disability benefits, Compl., ECF No. 1, and the parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 14; Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 16. Ms. Her asks the Court to reverse the denial, enter judgment, and remand for calculation and payment of benefits, or in the alternative, to reverse the decision and remand for further proceedings. Pl.'s Mem. at 34-35, ECF No. 15. The Commissioner asks that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision, grant her motion for summary judgment, and deny Ms. Her's motion for summary judgment. Def.'s Mem. at 16-17, ECF No. 17. For the reasons that follow, Ms. Her's motion is denied, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. Background

         On December 3, 2013, Ms. Her applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act and for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, alleging disability with an onset date of March 14, 2008. Admin. R. (“AR”) at 199, 203.[1] Ms. Her is currently 58 years old, and suffers from cervicalgia, headaches, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Id. at 17. She immigrated to the United States in 1987 from Laos. Id. at 50. Ms. Her's life has undoubtedly been marked by trauma. Her father was “shot in combat during the war. And his side of the head was blown off. His leg was broken, and when they brought him to [her family], that memory still shocks [her].” Id. at 60. And in 2002, her brother was murdered by his wife. Id. at 416. Ms. Her has nightmares and flashbacks as a result of these traumas. See, e.g., Id. at 400, 403.

         After immigrating to the United States, Ms. Her took an English language course. Id. at 50. Despite this course, she still struggles with the language: she finds reading and writing difficult and characterizes her speaking skills as only sufficient for “[r]eally basic conversation.” Id. at 51. Ms. Her worked primarily assembling automobile parts, but stopped working in March 2008 after pain interfered with her ability to complete the required tasks. Id. at 53, 55. She now spends her time caring for her husband, which is a great source of stress, but also tending the family garden, socializing with family, and walking outside when possible. Id. at 359, 379, 654.

         Ms. Her's application for disability benefits was denied initially in February 2014 and on reconsideration in October 2014. Id. at 92, 104, 120, 132. Ms. Her requested a hearing in the matter, and ALJ Virginia Kuhn conducted such a hearing in September 2015. Id. at 153, 168. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Ms. Her through a translator and from an impartial vocational expert. Id. at 43-79. ALJ Kuhn affirmed the denial of benefits in a detailed decision a month later. Id. at 12-37.

         In that decision, the ALJ followed the well-known sequential process for considering claims for DIB and SSI. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920 (a). She found that:

(1) Ms. Her had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 14, 2008;
(2) Ms. Her has severe impairments that would affect her ability to work;
(3) Ms. Her's impairments do not meet or medically equal the “listings” set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1;
(4) Ms. Her's impairments necessitate some limitations on her work, but she has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work; and
(5) Though Ms. Her would not be able to continue her relevant past work, she would be able to perform multiple jobs that are widely available in the national economy.

See Id. at 17-37. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner after the appeals council denied Ms. Her's request for review a year later. Id. at 6-8. Ms. Her filed the complaint here the following December, and the matter is now before the Court for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Compl.

         II. ...


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