On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 187,202.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued telephonically September 25, 2009
Before Judges Parrillo and Lihotz.
In these matters, consolidated for the purpose of this opinion, David L. Tatem appeals from final decisions of the Board of Review (Board) determining he was ineligible for the receipt of disability benefits during unemployment, and requiring him to refund the benefits previously paid. In light of our standard of review, we conclude the final decisions of the Board were properly premised upon facts in the record and its determinations were consonant with relevant statutory provisions. Therefore, we affirm.
Tatem was employed as a cook for Aramark Correctional Services in Camden. He resigned in August 2007 to relocate to Tennessee. Tatem's claim for unemployment benefits was denied by a Deputy Director of the Division of Unemployment and Disability Insurance (Deputy), who determined Tatem was disqualified because he "left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work . . . ." N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). Tatem did not appeal and that determination became final. N.J.S.A. 43:21-6(b)(1).
On September 9, 2007, Tatem was "rehired" by and began working as a cook for Aramark Education in Tennessee. Two and one-half weeks later he underwent surgery on his previously injured right shoulder. Tatem was disabled for three months.
During the brief period of reemployment, Tatem earned approximately $700.
Tatem filed a request for disability benefits. Initially, he was paid $1,245.22, which was subject to a child support offset such that he actually received $598. When Tatem questioned the offset, a different Deputy realized Tatem had not satisfied the eligibility requirements to receive benefits. Tatem was informed of his ineligibility and advised he was required to refund the monies previously paid. Tatem appealed these determinations.
Following a telephonic hearing, in separate decisions, an appeals tribunal (tribunal) affirmed the Deputy's determinations concluding Tatem was ineligible for disability benefits because of his ineligibility for unemployment benefits, and he must repay any benefits received. Tatem appealed to the Board, which affirmed the tribunal's decisions.
Appeals from those two Board decisions followed. We ordered consolidation on March 10, 2009. Tatem asserts that when he applied for disability he received oral assurances that he was eligible for benefits. He delineates six telephone calls made to a local Department of Labor office. He also received correspondence calculating his weekly benefit amount and requesting additional information to continue his claim.
Therefore, he believes he should not be required to refund the monies paid prior to receiving a subsequent notice of ineligibility.
The limited nature of our review of administrative decisions is well established. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). In analyzing the Board's determinations, we remain mindful that an agency's grant of authority must "be liberally construed to enable the agency to accomplish the Legislature's goals." Gloucester County Welfare Bd. v. N.J. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 93 N.J. 384, 390 (1983). A "strong presumption of reasonableness accompanies an administrative agency's exercise of statutorily-delegated responsibility," ibid., such that we defer to "[t]he agency's [statutory] interpretation . . . provided it is not plainly unreasonable." Merin v. Maglaki, 126 N.J. 430, 437 (1992).
After he left his New Jersey employment, Tatem was denied unemployment compensation. By resigning, he was disqualified from receiving benefits. N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). An individual is disqualified to receive unemployment 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 and works four ...