On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 203,483.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lisa, R. B. Coleman and Baxter.
Appellant Leshawn Anderson appeals from a final decision of the Board of Review that upheld the decision of the Appeal Tribunal finding Anderson ineligible for Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC08) benefits. We affirm.
The facts are not in dispute. Anderson was last employed as a Manager of Pharmanet when she was laid off as of March 25, 2008. She applied for and received unemployment benefits until April 28, 2008, when she was approved to be a participant in the Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) program. That program pays individuals "in lieu of" regular unemployment benefits, but it differs from the ordinary unemployment compensation program in that recipients seeking to establish small businesses are not required to search for work. They are permitted instead to work to establish their own business.
Anderson started a consulting business and was paid through the SEA program through the week ending September 27, 2008, when all benefits were exhausted. Anderson then applied for extended benefits under EUC08, but was informed by mailing dated September 30, 2008, that she was ineligible because:
Individuals who participate in the SEA program and exhaust SEA allowances are not eligible for extended benefits. Although you have exhausted your SEA allowance, you are not considered an Unemployment Insurance exhaustee under the Extended Unemployment Compensation 2008 (EUC) program.
Anderson appealed that determination to the Appeal Tribunal, and a hearing was conducted via telephone on December 31, 2008. Thereafter, the Appeals Examiner issued the written opinion which found that Anderson was ineligible because she had "received benefits through the SEA and did exhaust her regular unemployment benefits. However, she does not demonstrate she was able, available and actively seeking employment in accordance with the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC08) Program, Title IV of Public Law 110-252."
In the hearing, Anderson testified that she spends her time at networking events and meeting with prospects. She stated "looking for work and looking for work for my business is the same." Anderson was not seeking outside employment and she does not contend otherwise.
The scope of our review of administrative decisions is narrowly circumscribed. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999). Our role is to determine "'whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record' considering 'the proofs as a whole'" and "[']with due regard to the opportunity of the one who heard the witnesses to judge of their credibility.'" Ibid. (quoting Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965)). We "may not 'engage in an independent assessment of the evidence[.']" Ibid. (quoting State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999)), and must accord a strong presumption of reasonableness to the decision of the administrative agency. Smith v. Ricci, 89 N.J. 514, 525 (1982). We do not, however, simply rubber stamp the agency decision. Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). An administrative decision will be reversed only when it is found to be "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or it is not supported by the substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole." Ibid.
In this appeal, Anderson qualified for a program that permitted her to devote her energies to the establishment of her new business, however once those benefits were exhausted, she was obliged to satisfy the requirements for regular unemployment compensation. See 26 U.S.C. § 3304 (note on P.L. 110-252 § 4001(d)(2)); N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(c)(1). Based on Anderson's testimony during the hearing conducted by telephone, it was reasonable for the administrative agency to conclude that she was not "able, available and actively seeking employment," except as it may have come through her corporation. Consistent with the narrow scope of our review, we decline to disturb the decision of the Board.