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Richard J. Dickhaus v. Board of Review

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


January 13, 2011

RICHARD J. DICKHAUS, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, AND STEVENS INDUSTRIES, RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from a Final Decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 244,436.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted December 14, 2010

Before Judges Yannotti and Skillman.

Richard J. Dickhaus (Dickhaus) appeals from a final determination of the Board of Review (Board), which found that he was not qualified to receive extended unemployment compensation benefits under a state program established pursuant to the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-252, Title IV, 122 Stat. 2323, 2353-57 (2008) (note to and amending 26 U.S.C.A. § 3304) (EUCA). For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

The relevant facts are undisputed. Dickhaus was employed by Stevens Industries, Inc. (Stevens) from September 23, 2008, to March 23, 2009, when he was laid off. Dickhaus filed a claim for regular unemployment compensation benefits, dated March 22, 2009. Dickhaus did not have sufficient earnings in his "regular base year," but nevertheless qualified for benefits because he had sufficient earnings in his "alternative base year," which ran from January 1, 2008, through December 31, 2008. Dickhaus was paid regular unemployment benefits until June 27, 2009, when his claim was exhausted.

Dickhaus then sought extended unemployment compensation benefits under the State's program established pursuant to the federal EUCA. To qualify for extended benefits, Dickhaus had to establish that he worked twenty weeks in his "base year" or earned in that timeframe forty times his weekly benefit rate. Ibid.

A deputy director of the Division of Unemployment and Disability Insurance in the Department of Labor issued a decision on Dickhaus's claim, which was mailed to him on July 1, 2009. The deputy director informed Dickhaus that he did not qualify for extended benefits because he had only worked thirteen weeks rather than the required twenty weeks in his "alternative base year," and he had earned only $19,692.34 which was less than $23,360.00, which was forty times his weekly benefit rate of $584.

Dickhaus filed an appeal from the deputy's determination to the Appeal Tribunal, which issued a decision mailed on August 31, 2009. The Appeal Tribunal affirmed the deputy's determination. Dickhaus then appealed to the Board, which rendered a final decision on the matter, which was mailed on January 27, 2010. The Board upheld the Appeal Tribunal's finding that Dickhaus was not entitled to extended benefits. This appeal followed.

Dickhaus argues before us that the date of the filing of his claim is "subjective" and should not be the "determining" factor in whether he qualifies for extended benefits. Dickhaus further argues that if he had filed his claim for regular unemployment benefits one week later, he would have qualified for extended benefits.

The final decision of an administrative agency may not be disturbed on appeal unless it has been shown to be arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). We can only intervene "'in those rare circumstances in which an agency action is clearly inconsistent with its statutory mission or with other State policy.'" Id. at 210 (quoting George Harms Constr. v. N.J. Tpk. Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994)). Therefore, our review of a decision of an administrative agency is limited to the following inquiries:

(1) whether the agency's decision offends the State or Federal Constitution;

(2) whether the agency's action violates express or implied legislative policies;

(3) whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the findings on which the agency based its action; and

(4) whether in applying the legislative policies to the facts, the agency clearly erred in reaching a conclusion that could not reasonably have been made on a showing of the relevant factors. [Id. at 211 (quoting George Harms Constr., supra, 137 N.J. at 27).]

Having thoroughly reviewed the record in light of this standard, we conclude that the Board's final decision must be affirmed.

The EUCA provides in pertinent part that states may enter into agreements with the Secretary of Labor of the United States to provide extended unemployment benefits under certain circumstances to qualifying individuals. § 4001(a), 122 Stat. at 2353. Such an agreement may provide for payment of extended benefits to individuals who exhaust their rights to regular unemployment compensation benefits under state or federal law in any benefit year that commenced after May 1, 2007; have no right to extended benefits under any state or federal law; and are not receiving unemployment benefits under Canadian law. § 4001(b)(1) to (3), 122 Stat. at 2353.

The EUCA additionally provides that the federal government will agree to reimburse any participating state the full amount of extended benefits paid to qualifying individuals. § 4003(a), 122 Stat. at 2353. Section 4001(d)(2)(A) of the EUCA further provides 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 [twenty] 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 Employment Compensation Act of 1970 [FSEECA][.]

Section 202(a)(5) of FSEECA states that "the equivalent in insured wages shall be earnings covered by the State law for compensation which exceed [forty] times the individual's most recent weekly benefit amount[.]"

Thus, the Board correctly determined that, in order to qualify for extended benefits under the State's program established pursuant to the EUCA, Dickhaus had to establish that he had earnings in twenty weeks during his "base year" or earned forty times his weekly benefit rate of $584 in that timeframe. The record shows that Dickhaus did not have the required number of weeks or earnings in the applicable "base year," which was from January 1, 2008, through December 31, 2008. Therefore, the Board correctly found that Dickhaus did not qualify for extended benefits under either standard.

Dickhaus argues, however, that he would have qualified for extended benefits had he waited until April 1, 2009, to file his initial claim. We disagree.

N.J.S.A. 43:21-19(c)(1) defines the term "base year" to mean: the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters immediately preceding an individual's benefit year.

With respect to a benefit year commencing on or after July 1, 1995, if an individual does not have sufficient qualifying weeks or wages in his base year to qualify for benefits, the individual shall have the option of designating that his base year shall be the "alternative base year," which means the last four completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the individual's benefit year; except that, with respect to a benefit year commencing on or after October 1, 1995, if the individual also does not have sufficient qualifying weeks or wages in the last four completed calendar quarters immediately preceding his benefit year to qualify for benefits, "alternative base year" means the last three completed calendar quarters immediately preceding his benefit year and, of the calendar quarter in which the benefit year commences, the portion of the quarter which occurs before the commencing of the benefit.

Furthermore, N.J.S.A. 43:21-19(d) defines the term "benefit year" as "the 364 calendar days beginning with the day on, or as of, which [a claimant] first files a valid claim for benefits[.]"

Because Dickhaus filed his initial claim on March 22, 2009, his "regular base year" was from October 1, 2007, through September 30, 2008, which was "the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters immediately preceding an individual's benefit year[.]" N.J.S.A. 43:21-19(c)(1). However, because Dickhaus' wages from Stevens were earned in the last quarter of 2008, and fell outside his "regular base year," the "alternative base year" of January 1, 2008, through December 31, 2008, was used to determine whether he qualified for benefits.

If Dickhaus had not filed his initial claim for unemployment benefits until April 1, 2009, he still would not have qualified for extended benefits. The later filing of the claim would have established a "regular base year" from January 1, 2008, through December 31, 2008, which was the same time period as the "alternative base year" that was used to determine whether Dickhaus's March 22, 2009 claim was valid. Because Dickhaus did not work the required weeks or earn the necessary wages in the period from January 1, 2008, through December 31, 2008, he would not have qualified for extended benefits regardless of whether his initial claim was filed on April 1, 2009, or March 22, 2009.

Affirmed.

20110113

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