April 24, 2008
JOSEPH REGAN, APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND G. NILSON, INC., RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 116,133.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: April 9, 2008
Before Judges Axelrad and Payne.
Petitioner Joseph Regan appeals from a final determination of the Board of Review (Board), which held him disqualified for benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. Regan does not challenge the Board's substantive ruling, but only a procedural deficiency, claiming the employer never filed a proper, timely appeal of the Appeal Tribunal's (Tribunal) decision awarding him benefits. We are not persuaded by Regan's challenge and affirm.
Regan was employed full-time as an insurance agent for Nilson Insurance Agency for slightly over a year. After quitting his job following an altercation with his supervisor on May 5, 2006, Regan filed for unemployment compensation benefits. On June 9, 2006, a Deputy of the Division of Unemployment Insurance denied Regan benefits on the ground he voluntarily quit without good cause due to dissatisfaction with the working conditions. The Deputy further found Regan failed to exhaust all opportunities to resolve the problems with the employer prior to leaving. Regan appealed, sending a detailed letter to the Appeal Tribunal dated June 15, 2006.
Regan appeared and testified before an Appeals Examiner on July 25, 2006; the employer did not appear at the hearing. The same day the Tribunal issued a decision reversing the Deputy's determination and finding Regan qualified for unemployment benefits. Relying on Regan's testimony, the Tribunal found Regan resigned from his position because of an incident in which the supervisor confronted him and told him he was doing his job incorrectly, and during an ensuing argument, yelled at him and called him "stupid." The Tribunal found the employer harshly reprimanded Regan in the presence of others, violating its duty to use common courtesy in dealing with its workers and undermining Regan's dignity, providing him good cause for quitting.
The Department of Labor - Unemployment Insurance thereafter received a letter dated August 2, 2006, captioned "NOTICE OF APPEAL," from Regan's supervisor, Robert J. Blackburn, Jr., stating, in pertinent part:
I was notified by my employer, Geoffrey P. Nilson, that Joseph Regan who had terminated his employment with the Agency was appealing your decision to disqualify him from receiving unemployment benefits.
The following information is being submitted in response to his appeal. [(emphasis added).]
It thus appears Blackburn's response was to Regan's June 15, 2006 letter supporting his appeal to the Tribunal of the Deputy's disqualification of his workers compensation benefits, not an appeal from the Tribunal's July 25, 2006 decision holding Regan eligible for benefits. In any case, because the letter was received within the ten-day filing deadline, N.J.S.A. 43:21-6(c), by decision of September 15, 2006, the Board treated the letter as a timely appeal by the employer of the decision of the Tribunal. It concluded a need existed for additional testimony from Regan and the employer as to whether Regan's leaving was with good cause attributable to the work, directed the employer be subpoenaed, and remanded the case to the Tribunal for a hearing and decision on all issues.
The Board held the remand hearing on October 27, 2006, during which time testimony was taken from Regan, Blackburn, and Steven McGovern, another branch manager of the Nilson Agency. Later that day, the Tribunal affirmed the Deputy's decision disqualifying Regan for benefits, concluding Regan left work voluntarily and without good cause attributable to the work. The Tribunal held it was the employer's responsibility to ensure correct performance of work in its office, and the employer's questioning of Regan about his work did not constitute good cause for leaving his job. The Tribunal also held that Regan's "testimony that the employer had repeatedly called him 'stupid' [was] not credible, as he had never complained about, or discussed these inciden[t]s in the past."
On November 8, 2006, Regan filed an appeal and motion for rehearing. He reiterated his reasons for voluntarily quitting his job set forth in his June 15, 2006 letter, i.e., harassment and offensive conduct by his supervisor. He also raised the procedural deficiency asserted in the appeal before us, namely, that Blackburn's notice of appeal did not respond to the Tribunal's determination, but to the Deputy's original decision, and thus should not have been accepted as an appeal of the Tribunal's decision. On December 6, 2006, the Board affirmed the Tribunal's decision and held Regan was disqualified for unemployment benefits. The Board found that since Regan "was given a full and impartial hearing and a complete opportunity to offer any and all evidence, there is no valid ground for a further hearing." This appeal ensued.
Appellate courts have a limited role in reviewing the decisions of administrative agencies. We will not reverse an agency decision unless it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or it is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole. Carter v. Twp. of Bordentown, 191 N.J. 474, 482 (2007); R & R Mktg., L.L.C. v. Brown-Forman Corp., 158 N.J. 170, 175 (1999); In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999); Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210-11 (1997). The scope of review of an administrative decision is "whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record considering the proofs as a whole, with due regard to the opportunity of the one who heard the witnesses to judge of their credibility." Taylor, supra, 158 N.J. at 656 (internal quotations omitted).
Applying this highly deferential standard, we find no occasion to interfere with the Board's finding on procedural or substantive grounds. Though the timing may have been fortuitous, the employer's August 2, 2006 letter was filed within the ten-day deadline, and satisfied the Board that the matter should be remanded for a contested hearing. Moreover, as the Board noted, Regan had more than ample opportunity to offer any and all evidence and fully present his case at the remand hearing on July 25, 2006. Thus, he was not denied due process nor penalized by the Board's discretionary decision to treat Blackburn's procedurally imperfect letter as an appeal from the Tribunal's July 25 decision.
Although not expressly challenged in this appeal, we are also satisfied the Tribunal's determination, as affirmed by the Board, disqualifying Regan for unemployment benefits is supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record. Moreover, the disqualification was properly imposed as a matter of law. See Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J. Super. 284, 288 (App. Div. 1983) ("Mere dissatisfaction with working conditions which are not shown to be abnormal or do not affect health, does not constitute good cause for leaving work voluntarily.").
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