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Russian Court Interpreter’s Services for SSA’s Hearings

We’ve blogged before about the importance of using competent legal translators and interpreters in a variety of legal proceedings and for government document translation services. In Kurbanova v. Berryhill, the plaintiff used a Russian court interpreter to litigate her claims pursuant to the Social Security Act before an Administrative Law Judge. Below is a summary of the plaintiff’s case as it progressed from an administrative hearing before the Social Security Commissioner to Federal Court.

In Kurbanova, the plaintiff came to the United States in 2006 as a refugee from Uzbekistan. According to the plaintiff, she only had 10 years of formal education in Uzbekistan. After coming to the United States, the plaintiff, who spoke Russian, took English classes for less than two months. She then worked as a meat packer for Tyson Foods. While working for Tyson foods, the plaintiff was injured on the job during a fall. The plaintiff filed and settled a worker’s compensation claim after her doctor told her that she could not work anymore.

Plaintiff Applies for SSI; Testifies to Limited English Language Skills

In 2010, Plaintiff subsequently applied for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The plaintiff alleged she suffered from various impairments including degenerative disc disease, cervical radiculopathy, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. Her claim for supplemental security income was initially denied along with her request for a reconsideration of the denial. The plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who also issued an unfavorable ruling. This decision was subsequently remanded for a new hearing by the Appeals Council.

A different ALJ held a second hearing. At the hearing, the judge inquired about the plaintiff’s English language skills. The plaintiff reported that she could write her last name and address in English but could not write short English text, such as a note to her child’s teacher. She also did not attend parent-teacher conferences because she did not understand English and felt uncomfortable.

When asked how she communicated with her co-workers at Tyson foods, the plaintiff reported that she had some Russian-speaking co-workers who assisted her when she needed to speak with her supervisor. A vocational expert testified that the plaintiff would not be able to perform similar work as she had in the past due to her injuries. However, jobs such as a production assembler, parts inspector, and sorter were types of jobs that would be available to the plaintiff based on her abilities. Following the second hearing, the ALJ also issued an unfavorable ruling for plaintiff, finding that there were significant jobs in the U.S. economy that the plaintiff could perform. The ALJ also determined that the plaintiff was able to communicate in English.

Plaintiff Files a Lawsuit in Federal Court on Grounds That ALJ Failed to Properly Assess Her Ability to Communicate in English

After exhausting her administrative rights, the plaintiff subsequently filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, challenging the ALJ’s decision. The plaintiff argued that the ALJ’s ruling that she was able to communicate in English without a vocational limitation was erroneous. The plaintiff also argued that the jobs identified by the occupational expert as jobs that the plaintiff could perform all had English language requirements that exceeded her ability.

In considering the plaintiff’s lawsuit, the federal district court reviewed the plaintiff’s evidence that was submitted to the ALJ. The federal court rejected the plaintiff’s claims, holding that the ALJ’s decision should be upheld.

Specifically, the court found that although the plaintiff’s attorney had been given the opportunity to question the vocational expert on language-related issues, “neither the Plaintiff nor her attorney challenged the [vocational expert] or the ALJ about any language-related matters, and plaintiff’s attorney did not seek to elicit information about Plaintiff’s language abilities beyond questions asked by the ALJ. The court also reasoned that the vocational expert would have considered the plaintiff’s English language abilities she demonstrated at the hearing as well as her need for a Russian interpreter, her 10 years of education in Uzbekistan, and the fact that she only had taken two months’ worth of English classes in the United States. The court held that these facts, along with the ALJ’s failure to make any findings at the hearing regarding the Plaintiff’s inability to communicate in English, supported the vocational expert’s finding that the plaintiff could perform the low-level job of a “sorter.”

The court also noted that the plaintiff had taken her citizenship exam in English and that her medical records reflected an ability to speak “some English.” Finally, the court observed that the Plaintiff did not refute the vocational expert’s opinion that she was capable of performing a job as a “sorter”. Based on the foregoing, and in conjunction with the court’s rejection of the plaintiff’s alleged mental impairment claims, the court denied the plaintiff’s appeal.

The case is Kurbanova v. Berryhill, Civil Action No. 3:16-CV-1054, decided on February 15, 2017 by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Contact our document translation service in Denver, Colorado, to obtain certified translation of government documents from English to Traditional Chinese, Russian, Korean, German, Simplified Chinese, other languages,  and from any foreign language to English.

This law translation blog article should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.

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