December 3, 2010
LEOPOLDO C. CHAVEZ, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR; DECEUNINCK NORTH AMERICA; BED, BATH & BEYOND; AND WAYTODOUGH, INC., RESPONDENTS-RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 215,380. Stanley G. Sheats argued the cause for appellant (Northeast New Jersey Legal Services, attorneys; Mr. Sheats, on the brief).
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued October 20, 2010 - Decided Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Nugent.
Appellant Leopoldo Chavez appeals from the final decision of the Board of Review (Board) denying him emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) benefits. The Board found appellant ineligible for these benefits because he has insufficient base weeks in the base year that was used to determine his original claim for ordinary benefits. As he did before the Board, appellant argues on appeal that the Board should have used the statutory "alternative base year" to calculate his eligibility for EUC benefits. Appellant would qualify for emergency benefits if this alternative base year is applied.
After reviewing the record and in light of our standard of review, we affirm. The following facts will inform our analysis of the issues raised by appellant.
On September 7, 2008, appellant filed a claim for ordinary unemployment compensation benefits. As the Board found, appellant's base year for this claim was from April 1, 2007 to March 21, 2008.
Appellant worked for Deceuninck North America from February 8, 2007 through March 28, 2007. He earned $143 or more on twelve calendar weeks during the time he worked at Deceuninck. From February 19, 2008 through September 22, 2008, appellant worked for Bed Bath & Beyond, throughout which he earned $143 or more on six calendar weeks. During this period, he also worked for Waytodough, Inc. and earned $143 or more during one calendar week. Thus, during his base year appellant established nineteen base weeks - calendar weeks in which his earnings were at least $143 - in total.
Appellant exhausted his ordinary unemployment compensation benefits on January 3, 2009. The following day, he filed for EUC benefits. On January 6, 2009, the New Jersey Department of Labor mailed appellant its determination finding him ineligible for EUC benefits because he "did not have 20 base weeks of employment in the base year of [his] original claim, or in the alternative, have earnings of at least 40 times [his] weekly benefit rate in [his] base year."
The Appeal Tribunal upheld this initial ruling finding that appellant had established a base year from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008 by virtue of his original claim filed September 7, 2008. The Appeal Tribunal further found that appellant had established nineteen base weeks. Based on this record, the Appeal Tribunal found appellant ineligible for EUC benefits pursuant to section 4001 of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which requires that an applicant have at least 20 base weeks during his or her original base year or earn forty times the original claim's weekly benefit rate.
The Board affirmed the Appeal Tribunal, reiterating that "for purposes of EUC benefits, the applicable base year is the base year which was used to establish claimant's eligibility for benefits on the initial claim for benefits," and claimant did not work twenty base weeks or earn forty times his weekly benefit rate.
Although we are not bound by the Board's determination of a legal issue, Dispasquale v. Bd. of Review, 286 N.J. Super. 341, 345 (App. Div. 1996) (citing Mayflower Sec. Co. v. Bureau of Sec., 64 N.J. 85, 93 (1973)), we defer to an agency's construction of a statute "in recognition of the agency's expertise in the field." TAC Assocs. v. N.J. Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 202 N.J. 533, 544 (2010). We will thus uphold an agency's interpretation of a statute provided it is reasonable and does not conflict with the intent of the Legislature. Gilliland v. Bd. of Review, 298 N.J. Super. 349, 354 (App. Div. 1997) (citations omitted).
Appellant sought EUC benefits under Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-252, §. 4001, 122 Stat. 2323, 2353-2354 (2008) ("the Act"). He argues that the Board should have used an alternative base year, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-19(c), to determine his eligibility. We disagree.
Under the Act, the terms and conditions of the State law which apply to claims for regular compensation and to the payment thereof shall apply to claims for emergency unemployment compensation and the payment thereof, except . . . that an individual shall not be eligible for emergency unemployment compensation under this title unless, in the base period with respect to which the individual exhausted all rights to regular compensation under the State law, the individual had 20 weeks of full-time insured employment or the equivalent in insured wages, as determined under the provisions of the State law implementing section 202(a)(5) of the Federal-State Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 1970 (26 U.S.C.A § 3304 note) . . . . [Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act § 4001(d)(2) (emphasis added).]
This provision makes eligibility contingent on a claimant having established twenty base weeks during the base year of his original claim, or earnings which exceed forty times his most recent benefit amount during the base year of the original claim. Thus, the base year used for determining eligibility for EUC is the base year of the original claim.*fn1
The Board applied this provision to find appellant ineligible for EUC benefits. Given the record before us, the Board's decision is not arbitrary or capricious. We are thus bound to defer to the Board's ruling and affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by the Board.