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Muckley v. Board of Review

August 20, 2008


On appeal from a Final Decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, 152,008.

Per curiam.


Submitted August 13, 2008

Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Sabatino.

This pro se appeal concerns the denial of retroactive unemployment benefits. Claimant, Jonathan D. Muckley, seeks reversal of the Board of Review's August 14, 2007 final agency decision. In its ruling, the Board upheld administrative findings declaring claimant ineligible for benefits that he had belatedly sought in 2007 for the period from May 21, 2006 through April 28, 2007. We affirm.

Claimant worked as a full-time letter carrier (a position now known as a "carrier technician") for the United States Postal Service ("USPS") in Red Bank from July 1997 through May 22, 2006. After claimant arrived at the post office for work on May 23, 2006, his supervisor told him that he was no longer considered employable there. The supervisor also handed him a confirmatory document pronouncing him "unfit for duty."*fn1

Claimant immediately ceased working at the post office, and he never returned to work there. He was not paid again by the USPS, except for the balance of his accumulated leave.

Despite the fact that he was not working or being paid any wages, claimant did not file a claim for unemployment benefits during the next eleven months. He did, however, at some point file a claim of discrimination against his employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").*fn2 Claimant also filed in January 2007 a disability claim with the Social Security Administration.

On or about April 22, 2007, claimant received a document ("Form 50") from the USPS entitled "Notification of Personnel Action." The document reiterated that the USPS had classified him as "totally disabled for useful and efficient service in [his] position." After receiving this form, claimant finally decided to file a claim for unemployment benefits. He did so on April 29, 2007. In filing his application, claimant requested permission to have his benefits calculated from his last day of work in May 2006.

Claimant's application for retroactive benefits was rejected by a Deputy in the Division of Unemployment Compensation because he "failed to report [his claim to the agency] during the week(s) [he was] claiming." After a telephonic hearing at which claimant testified, the Appeal Tribunal affirmed the Deputy's denial. That decision, in turn, was appealed by claimant to the Board of Review. The Board affirmed the agency's denial of benefits for the period at issue.

In his present appeal, claimant essentially argues that he should be excused for not filing an unemployment claim sooner because he had misunderstood his legal options and he had not received the Form 50 from the USPS until June 2007. He maintains that his ignorance of the unemployment laws justifies his late filing, contending that he really did not appreciate that the USPS had fired him until he received the "official" Form 50.

As a matter of law, an unemployed person is not eligible for unemployment benefits unless he or she has "filed a claim at an unemployment insurance claims office . . . as directed by the [D]ivision in accordance with [its] regulations." N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(a). According to those regulations, the effective date of a benefits claim is "the Sunday of the week in which the claimant first reports to claim benefits." N.J.A.C. 12:17-4.2(a). This means that claimant, assuming all other requirements were met, was not eligible for unemployment benefits until Sunday, April 29, 2007.

Any person "who fails to report [a claim] as directed [by these regulations] will be ineligible for benefits unless . . . there is 'good cause' for failing to comply." N.J.A.C. 12:17-4.1(b). The regulations narrowly define "good cause" as encompassing situations that are "substantial" and which "prevented the claimant from reporting as required by the Division." Ibid.

Here, nothing "prevented" claimant from applying for benefits after he was sent off by his supervisor on May 23, 2006 and handed paperwork declaring him unfit to work. Claimant maintains that he was ignorant of the law, and that he was not really sure that he had been discharged by his employer until the Form 50 arrived in the mail almost a year later. The agency found these excuses insufficient to constitute ...

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