August 8, 2008
AUDRA D. CALLOWAY, APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, AND WASSERMAN, JURISTA, AND STOLTZ, RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 140,805.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted July 28, 2008
Before Judges Graves and Yannotti.
Audra D. Calloway (Calloway) appeals from a decision of the Board of Review (the Board), which reversed the Appeal Tribunal's determination that she was "not ineligible for additional benefits during training as provided by N.J.S.A. 43:21-60." After reviewing the record in light of the applicable law, we affirm.
Calloway filed for unemployment benefits effective January 1, 2006, and she collected benefits for twenty-six weeks before applying for additional benefits under the New Jersey Workforce Development Act, N.J.S.A. 43:21-57 to -66. Although Calloway was approved for a $4200 educational grant, the Deputy Director (the Deputy) of the Division of Unemployment and Disability Insurance (the Division) found Calloway was ineligible for "Additional Benefits During Training." The Deputy reasoned: "The training that you are attending or planning to attend is not full-time."
Calloway appealed the Deputy's decision to the Appeal Tribunal, which held a hearing on March 6, 2007. During the hearing, Calloway stated she was enrolled in a cardiovascular program at the School of Medical Technology. She admitted the course met for "a total of fourteen school hours per week," and therefore she did "not meet the twenty hour criteria" for full-time training as required by N.J.S.A. 43:21-60(f) and N.J.A.C. 12:23-4.2(a)(1). Nevertheless, the Appeal Tribunal issued a written decision dated March 6, 2007, which stated in part:
In this matter, the claimant contends that she was originally advised that her program was approved. The Appeal Tribunal views the claimant's testimony as credible due to the lack of challenging evidence.
The burden of proof [rests] upon the [D]ivision to demonstrate the claimant's reason for being ineligible for additional benefits. The [D]ivision has failed to provide this evidence.
The claimant followed the [D]ivision's directions and was advised that she was approved for additional benefits. There is no evidence to show that the claimant is ineligible for benefits. Therefore, the claimant is not ineligible for additional unemployment benefits during training as provided by [N.J.S.A. 43:21-60(f)].
The Division appealed the Appeal Tribunal's decision to the Board, and in a written decision dated April 12, 2007, the Board reversed. The Board's findings and conclusions included the following:
N.J.S.A. 43:21-60(f) provides in part: Eligibility for Additional Benefits:
(f) Enrolls in vocational training, remedial education or a combination of both on a full-time basis.
The Appeal Tribunal held the claimant [is] not ineligible for benefits as she was originally approved and there was no evidence to show that the claimant should be ineligible for benefits. We do not agree. Based on the above statute, in order to be eligible for Additional Benefits During Training, the claimant must have enrolled in an approved training program that was full time. The undisputed testimony at the hearing revealed that the training she enrolled in was only part time. Therefore, the claimant is ineligible for Additional Benefits During Training in accordance with N.J.S.A. 43:21-60(f).
Our scope of review of an agency decision is limited. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). In challenging an agency's decision, the claimant carries a substantial burden of persuasion, and "[a] strong presumption of reasonableness accompanies an administrative agency's exercise of statutorily-delegated responsibility." Gloucester County Welfare Bd. v. State Civil Serv. Comm'n, 93 N.J. 384, 390 (1983).
We also accord substantial deference to the interpretation given by the agency to the statutes it is charged with enforcing. Bd. of Educ. of Neptune v. Neptune Twp. Educ. Ass'n, 144 N.J. 16, 31 (1996). An agency's determination will be overturned only if it is found to be "'arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or it is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole,'" or it is inconsistent with the enabling statute or legislative policy. Barry v. Arrow Pontiac, Inc., 100 N.J. 57, 71 (1985) (quoting Gloucester County Welfare Bd., supra, 93 N.J. at 391); see also Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 2ll; Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980); N.J. Guild of Hearing Aid Dispensers v. Long, 75 N.J. 544, 562-63 (1978). Moreover, in reviewing an agency decision we "are not free to substitute [our own] judgment as to the wisdom of a particular administrative action for that of the agency so long as that action is statutorily authorized and not otherwise defective because arbitrary or unreasonable." N.J. Guild of Hearing Aid Dispensers, supra, 75 N.J. at 562-63.
Applying these principles to the current appeal, we concur with the Board's findings and conclusions. As noted by the Board, N.J.S.A. 43:21-60(f) limits eligibility for Additional Benefits During Training to those who are enrolled "in occupational training, remedial instruction or a combination of both on a full-time basis." (Emphasis added). Moreover, N.J.A.C. 12:23-4.2(a)(1) defines "full-time training" as consisting "of not less than 20 hours per week of classroom work and structured assignments for individuals in training provided by a service provider other than an institution of higher education."
By her own admission, Calloway acknowledged the cardiovascular program in which she enrolled only met fourteen hours per week and therefore did "not meet the twenty hour criteria." Thus, the Board's decision finding claimant ineligible for Additional Benefits During Training was "'supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole,'" Barry, supra, 100 N.J. at 71 (quoting Gloucester County Welfare Bd., supra, 93 N.J. at 391), and we discern no basis to intervene.
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