June 3, 2010
WILLIAM J. LAIBLE, APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW AND SOFTWARE CO-OP, INC., RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Docket No. 215,561.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 24, 2010
Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Baxter.
William J. Laible appeals from a June 22, 2009 decision of the Board of Review (Board) that affirmed the Appeal Tribunal's conclusion that Laible was ineligible for benefits because he lacked sufficient base year weeks or base year wages to establish a valid claim for benefits. The sole issue on appeal is whether the Board's refusal to accept Laible's late claim for benefits was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. We conclude that the Board's application of the statutory requirements was correct and affirm the final agency decision rendered on June 22, 2009.
Laible was last employed by respondent Software Co-Op, Inc. as chief executive officer earning $125,000 per year when he was involuntarily separated from that employment on December 31, 2006. Nearly two years later, on November 30, 2008, he filed a claim for unemployment compensation benefits. A deputy claims examiner found Laible ineligible for benefits on the ground that he lacked sufficient base year weeks or base year wages to establish a valid claim. The claims examiner wrote:
During the base year, there were FEWER THAN TWENTY (20) BASE WEEKS and you earned LESS THAN $7200 in wages . . . .
When that claim was denied, Laible filed another claim some five weeks later on January 4, 2009, which was denied by the claims examiner for the same reason.
In a hearing before the Appeal Tribunal, Laible testified he had not realized there was a time limit for applying for unemployment compensation benefits. As he explained, "It's not something . . . you're aware of until you've dealt with unemployment or had to file a claim." He also stated that he "did not apply for unemployment because [he] had hoped to be able to weather the [economic] storm and hopefully be able to get a job before [he] needed help." The Appeal Tribunal upheld the denial of benefits. Laible appealed to the Board, which, on June 22, 2009, upheld the decision of the Appeal Tribunal, again finding Laible ineligible.
On appeal, Laible asserts that the Board's decision was arbitrary and capricious because "principles of fairness" entitled him to consideration of his claim on the merits even though his claim was not filed in a timely manner.
As the Board correctly argues, the sole issue in this case is whether Laible was eligible for unemployment benefits where he had no earnings from employment for two years prior to filing his benefits claim. The burden to establish entitlement to such benefits always rests upon the claimant. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 218 (1997). The relevant portion of the unemployment compensation law, N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(e), provides that an individual is eligible for benefits only if he has established "at least 20 base weeks" of employment "during his base year." The term "base week" is defined in N.J.S.A. 43:21-19(t)(3) as "any calendar week during which the individual earned in employment from an employer remuneration not less than an amount 20 times the minimum wage . . . ." The term "base year" is defined by N.J.S.A. 43:21-19(c)(1) as "the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters" immediately preceding the date the individual filed the claim for benefits.
Applying that standard, the claim dated November 30, 2008 established a base year of July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008. The claim dated January 4, 2009, established a base year of October 1, 2007 through September 30, 2008. The uncontroverted evidence demonstrates that Laible had not worked since his employment at Software ended on December 31, 2006 and he therefore earned no unemployment after that date. Thus, Laible did not establish twenty base weeks in employment within either of the two base years.
If the employee has not established twenty "base weeks" of employment, he may also qualify for benefits if he earns "remuneration not less than an amount 1,000 times the minimum wage in effect" during his benefit year. N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(e)(4). Because Laible had no earnings from employment after he left his employment at Software Co-Op on December 31, 2006, he was not able to satisfy the "base wages" alternative that is provided by N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(e)(4).
The Board's determination that Laible 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, supra, 153 N.J. at 210. Recognizing that standard, Laible nonetheless urges us to overturn the Board's decision. He asserts that he relied on information provided on the Department of Labor's website, which he insists is confusing and misleading, although he provides no details. He also maintains that he relied on information provided by Suze Orman, a television commentator who appears on several cable television business channels. According to Laible, during an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Orman stated "there is no time limit to apply [for unemployment]." He also visited Winfrey's website, which contained the same information. Laible maintains that Orman is "respected in many circles as a credible and reliable source of information," and he was misled by her statements. Laible's argument that the Board's final decision was arbitrary and capricious and that he was misled by the website and by Orman's purported statements on the Oprah Winfrey Show are meritless and do not warrant discussion.*fn1
We are satisfied, as was the Board, that by waiting until November 30, 2008 to file an application for benefits, Laible was unable to satisfy the "base weeks" or "base wages" provisions of the applicable statute.