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Wiggins v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


December 4, 2008

MAGNORA WIGGINS, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW AND AIRCRAFT SERVICE INTERNATIONAL, RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Docket No. 162,508.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted November 13, 2008

Before Judges Cuff and Baxter.

Magnora Wiggins appeals from a December 10, 2007 decision of the Board of Review (Board) that affirmed the Appeal Tribunal's conclusion that Wiggins was disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits because she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employment. We affirm.

I.

Wiggins was hired as a ticket agent by Aircraft Service International (Aircraft) in November 2005, working at Newark Liberty Airport, where her duties included checking in passengers for outgoing flights and lifting luggage weighing between fifty and 100 pounds. Her job necessitated considerable walking, standing, squatting and bending.

On January 2, 2007, Wiggins severely injured her knee during a fall at home. She remained out of work under her physician's order until January 29, 2007, when she returned to work wearing a knee brace. Her treating physician referred her to an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed her injury as a torn meniscus and a partial rupture of the patella in her left knee. On January 30, the orthopedic surgeon advised Wiggins that she should restrict her work to "light duty only." Wiggins's supervisor at Aircraft notified her that no light duty work was available.

Consequently, Wiggins was out of work and on disability leave for another three months, through April 30, 2007. She did not return to work at that time because she was scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus tear on May 10, 2007. After the surgery, Wiggins's disability leave was extended by her physician until August 27, 2007. However, on July 31, 2007, before her leave expired, Wiggins resigned, explaining that "the extensive injuries to [her] knee" prevented her from "attend[ing] to [her] duties."

Wiggins thereafter applied for unemployment compensation benefits. The Appeal Tribunal affirmed the decision of a deputy claims examiner that Wiggins was disqualified for unemployment benefits because she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to her employment. On December 10, 2007, the Board affirmed that decision.

II.

We review Wiggins's contentions in accordance with our standard of review. The Board's determination that Wiggins was disqualified from receiving benefits must be affirmed unless it is "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable" or is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). In determining whether an agency's decision is supported by substantial credible evidence, we are obliged to accord deference to the agency's fact-finding. Associated Util. Servs., Inc. v. Bd. of Review, 131 N.J. Super. 585, 588 (App. Div. 1974).

An appellate court "may not vacate an agency's determination merely because of doubts as to its wisdom or because the record may support more than one result." Petition of County of Essex, 299 N.J. Super. 577, 591-92 (App. Div), certif. denied, 151 N.J. 463 (1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1111, 118 S.Ct. 1043, 140 L.Ed. 2d 108 (1998). "In reviewing the factual findings made in an unemployment compensation proceeding, the test is not whether an Appellate Court would come to the same conclusion if the original determination was its to make, but rather whether the fact-finder could reasonably so conclude upon the proofs." Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 210 (quoting Charatan v. Bd. of Review, 200 N.J. Super. 74, 79 (App. Div. 1985)) (internal alteration omitted). Therefore, if the record contains sufficient credible competent evidence to support the agency's conclusions, then we must uphold them. Clowes v. Terminix Int'l., Inc. 109 N.J. 575, 587 (1988).

This appeal requires us to decide whether, as the Board determined in its December 10, 2007 decision, Wiggins is ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits because she voluntarily left her job without good cause attributable to the employment itself. The relevant portion of the New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Law provides that an individual shall be disqualified for benefits "[f]or the week in which the individual has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work, and for each week thereafter until the individual becomes reemployed . . . ." N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) (emphasis added).

Consequently, an employee who has left work voluntarily and has not been terminated by her employer has the burden of proving that she did so with good cause attributable to the work. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 213. As the Court observed in Brady, a 1961 amendment to the Unemployment Compensation Law was intended to "eliminate the eligibility of persons who leave work for good, but personal causes." Ibid. (quoting Self v. Bd. of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 457 (1982)). Thus, an employee who leaves the job without a sufficient work-related reason is disqualified for benefits. N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). In this case, the undisputed evidence in the record demonstrates that Wiggins was no longer capable of performing her job duties as a ticket agent, which she herself acknowledged in her letter of resignation.

When an individual is physically unable to perform the duties of her employment as a result of a medical condition unrelated to the employment, "the individual shall be disqualified for benefits for voluntarily leaving work." N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.3(b). Moreover, in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits, the claimant must be "able to work" and "available for work." N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(c)(1). Unquestionably, by her own admission, Wiggins was not "able to work" and therefore did not satisfy the eligibility criteria established by that statute. Consequently, the Board correctly disqualified Wiggins from receiving unemployment benefits.

For the first time on appeal, Wiggins argues that she should be entitled to receive unemployment compensation benefits because she attempted to return to her job following a period of disability covered under the Temporary Disability Program. We need not decide this issue because it was not raised below. Nieder v. Royal Indem. Ins. Co., 62 N.J. 229, 234 (1973). Were we to consider this claim, we would nonetheless conclude it lacks merit. N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.3(b) limits eligibility for unemployment compensation benefits to those claimants who are physically capable of performing the job responsibilities.

Affirmed.

20081204

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