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Rodriguez v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


November 23, 2009

JOSE F. RODRIGUEZ, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INSERRA SUPERMARKETS, INC., RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 187,822.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted November 4, 2009

Before Judges Lihotz and Ashrafi.

Claimant Jose F. Rodriguez appeals from a final decision of the Board of Review (Board) finding him disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work, as required by N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). Our examination of the record, in light of our standard of review, satisfies us the Board's final decision was properly premised upon facts in the record and is consonant with relevant statutory provisions. Accordingly, we affirm.

Claimant was employed by Inserra Supermarkets, Inc., trading as ShopRite, beginning June 16, 2007. Claimant requested a one-month leave of absence when he learned his ten-year old son, who resided in Honduras, had suffered a serious head injury. Claimant completed the required medical leave form to submit his request. His supervisor, Esther Guzman, agreed to present his request to Human Resources. Claimant then left work on March 20, 2008.*fn1 When claimant returned on April 28, 2008, he learned his leave request had been denied because he had not been employed for twelve months. Further, Guzman explained his job was no longer available, as, during his absence, he was replaced.

Claimant applied for unemployment benefits, asserting Guzman had granted him permission to leave. Guzman denied this claim during her testimony before an appeals tribunal, stating she had no authority to grant claimant's leave request and that claimant "did not have permission by me. No. Absolutely not." Guzman had advised claimant she did not believe his request would be approved because he had worked for less than one year, as required by company policy.

Claimant's April 27, 2008 application for unemployment compensation benefits was denied by the deputy claims examiner, who found him disqualified because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. The determination was affirmed by an appeals tribunal, which found claimant left work for personal reasons and had no documentation confirming that his request for leave was approved.*fn2 The Board affirmed this determination, and this appeal ensued.

Our scope of review of an agency decision is limited. Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963). In challenging the agency's conclusion, claimant carries a substantial burden of persuasion, and the determination by the administrative agency carries a presumption of correctness. Gloucester County Welfare Bd. v. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 93 N.J. 384, 390-91 (1983). We also accord substantial deference to the agency's interpretation of the statute it is charged with enforcing. Board of Educ. of Neptune v. Neptune Tp. Educ. Ass'n, 144 N.J. 16, 31 (1996). We will overturn an agency determination only if it is found to be arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, unsupported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole, or 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). Further "[w]e are obliged to defer to the Board when its factual findings are based on 'sufficient credible evidence' in the record." Lourdes Med. Ctr. of Burlington County v. Bd. of Review, 197 N.J. 339, 367 (2009) (quoting Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997)).

Applying these principles, we conclude the Board's decision denying claimant benefits is supported by substantial credible evidence in the record. The governing statute, N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), provides an individual is disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits where that "individual has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work." A claimant bears the burden of establishing such good cause. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 218. "Good cause means 'cause sufficient to justify an employee's voluntarily leaving the ranks of the employed and joining the ranks of the unemployed,' and the reasons for terminating employment 'must meet the test of ordinary common sense and prudence.'" Heulitt v. Bd. of Review, 300 N.J. Super. 407, 414 (App. Div. 1997) (internal citation omitted).

Whether an employee should be denied unemployment compensation benefits is based on the circumstances of each individual case. See Self v. Bd. of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 459-60 (1982). Persons who leave work for good or even compelling reasons that are nonetheless personal, are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 213; Self, supra, 91 N.J. at 457.

Here, claimant left work to attend to the medical needs of his young son, which is an event to be "reviewed as a voluntary leaving work issue." N.J.A.C. 12:17-9.1(e)(2). Unfortunately, claimant's limited employment of approximately seven months did not qualify him for family leave benefits.*fn3 His contention that Guzman approved the leave request was rejected in light of credible evidence to the contrary, presented by the employer including Guzman's testimony, and the employer's written denial of his request. Further, agency regulations provide that an employee who takes leave after a denial of a leave request acts voluntarily. N.J.A.C. 12:17-12.3(d). Accordingly, claimant's decision to leave his employment for over one month was a voluntary one, disqualifying him from receipt of unemployment compensation, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).

In sum, the denial of benefits, rendered after a hearing that comported with due process, Malady v. Bd. of Review, 166 N.J. Super. 523, 528 (App. Div. 1979), is supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole. Barry, supra, 100 N.J. at 71. We discern no basis to disturb the Board's determinations.

Affirmed.


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