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Quinones v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


May 4, 2009

JEANETTE B. QUINONES, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW AND CUSTOM MORTGAGE SOLUTIONS, INC., RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Docket No. 109,113.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted March 25, 2009

Before Judges Lihotz and Messano.

Appellant Jeanette B. Quinones appeals from a final decision of the Board of Review (Board), which affirmed the Appeal Tribunal's (tribunal) determination she was disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits because she left work "voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work," N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). The tribunal also required appellant to refund all benefits paid. N.J.S.A. 43:21-16(d)(1). Our examination of the record, in light of our standard of review, satisfies us that the Board's final decision was properly premised upon facts in the record and consonant with relevant statutory provisions. The Board's determination was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Accordingly, we affirm.

Appellant was employed as the Vice President of Closing and Funding for Custom Mortgage Solutions (CMS) from January 1, 2003 until July 6, 2004. Chuck Arena, CMS's CEO, was appellant's supervisor. On June 25, 2004, Arena talked to appellant regarding problems with her performance. Appellant explained she was unsure she was a good fit for the job and told Arena she was resigning. On July 6, 2004, Arena gave appellant written confirmation of his acceptance of her resignation. In the hearing, appellant acknowledged she told Arena she felt overwhelmed and was going to resign. However, she asserted when Arena handed her the July 6 letter, she stated she was not resigning. Thus, appellant contends she was terminated.

Appellant's initial request for unemployment benefits was granted, however, upon redetermination, a finding was issued that she was disqualified from the receipt of benefits. On appellant's application, an appeals examiner conducted a telephonic hearing on May 23, 2006. The tribunal concluded the employer could rely on appellant's statement, evincing an intention to quit, and concluded claimant was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. The Board affirmed this decision.

On appeal, appellant challenges the factual findings upon which the Board's decision rests. To support her claim, she suggests she never submitted a written letter of resignation, rather her comments were mere discussion.

An employee who leaves a job voluntarily is statutorily disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits, N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), and has the burden of proving that he or she did so with good cause attributable to the work. Morgan v. Bd. of Review, 77 N.J. Super. 209, 213 (App. Div. 1962). "Good cause" is defined in the regulations as "a reason related directly to the individual's employment, which [is] so compelling as to give the individual no choice but to leave the employment." N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(b). Causes personal to an employee and not attributable to the work come within the disqualification of the statute. Domenico v. Bd. of Review, 192 N.J. Super. 284, 287 (App. Div. 1983) (quoting Condo v. Bd. of Review, 158 N.J. Super. 172, 174 (App. Div. 1978)); White v. Bd. of Review, 146 N.J. Super. 268, 270 (App. Div. 1977). A notice of quitting separates the employee from the job and constitutes a voluntary leaving. Nicholas v. Bd. of Review, 171 N.J. Super. 36, 38 (App. Div. 1979).

The test is fact-sensitive. As a result, when the agency's findings of fact are challenged on appeal, a claimant carries a substantial burden of persuasion, and the determination by the agency carries a strong presumption of reasonableness. Gloucester County Welfare Bd. v. State Civil Serv. Comm'n, 93 N.J. 384, 390 (1983). In our limited review, we will not disturb an agency's decision unless it is arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997); Zielenski v. Bd. of Review, 85 N.J. Super. 46, 54 (App. Div. 1964). Further, we accord substantial deference to the interpretation given by an agency to the statute it is charged with enforcing, Board of Educ. of Neptune v. Neptune Tp. Educ. Ass'n, 144 N.J. 16, 31 (1996), and give deference to credibility determinations made by the fact finder. Doering v. Bd. of Review, 203 N.J. Super. 241, 245 (App. Div. 1985). See Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965).

Giving due regard to the appeals examiner who had the opportunity to assess the credibility of appellant and Arena, we are satisfied the Board's finding that appellant, feeling overwhelmed, gave oral notice of her decision to resign that was accepted and acted upon by the employer, supported a determination that she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. Nicholas, supra, 171 N.J. Super. at 38. Accordingly, we respect the Board's expertise and defer to its considered determination. Karins v. City of Atl. City, 152 N.J. 532, 540-41 (1998).

Once a person has been disqualified to receive unemployment benefits, the statue requires repayment of any benefits received. N.J.S.A. 43:21-16(d)(1). Recoupment of "unemployment benefits received by an individual who, for any reason, regardless of good faith, was not actually entitled to those benefits[,]" protects the public and maintains a fund for those who are adversely affected by unemployment, not those who voluntarily choose to leave the workforce. Bannan v. Bd. of Review, 299 N.J. Super. 671, 674 (App. Div. 1997). "The public interest clearly is not served when the Unemployment Trust Fund is depleted by the failure to recoup benefits erroneously paid to an unentitled recipient." Ibid.

Affirmed.

20090504

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