October 11, 2011
RUTH I. MICHENER, APPELLANT,
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, PENNSBURY SCHOOL DISTRICT AND LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION, RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 244,597.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 20, 2011
Before Judges Messano and Yannotti.
Ruth I. Michener appeals from a final determination of the Board of Review (Board), which found that she is ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits for the period from June 14, 2009, through September 5, 2009. We affirm.
This appeal arises from the following facts. In the 2007-2008 school year, Michener was employed by the Hamilton Township school district as a full-time teacher. In May 2008, the Hamilton Township district informed Michener that it would not be offering her a contract for the 2008-2009 school year.
Michener filed a claim for unemployment benefits in June 2008, seeking benefits for the period from June 29, 2008, through August 30, 2008. In a decision mailed on January 5, 2009, the Board determined that Michener was eligible for benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(g)(1) because, in the period covered by her claim, Michener did not have a "reasonable assurance" of continuing her employment as a full-time teacher in the next school year.
In the 2008-2009 school year, the Pennsbury and the Lawrence Township school districts employed Michener as a substitute teacher. At the end of that school year, both districts sent Michener a letter inquiring as to her availability to serve as a substitute teacher in the 2009-2010 school year. Michener responded and advised the districts that she would work for them both as a substitute teacher.
In July 2009, Michener filed a claim for unemployment compensation benefits for the period from June 14, 2009, through September 5, 2009. She received benefits for the weeks ending July 11, 2009, and July 18, 2009, totaling $1,098. However, in a decision mailed on July 29, 2009, a deputy claims administrator found that Michener was not eligible for benefits because she had been employed by an educational institution in the school year ending in June 2009, and she had a "reasonable assurance" of such employment in the 2009-2010 school year.
Michener filed an appeal to the Appeal Tribunal from the deputy's determination. On October 22, 2009, a hearing was held in the matter. In a decision mailed on October 26, 2009, the Appeal Tribunal upheld the deputy's determination. Michener appealed to the Board, which issued a decision that was mailed on May 5, 2010. The Board affirmed the Appeal Tribunal's decision but remanded the matter to the Appeal Tribunal for a hearing to determine whether Michener should be required to repay the $1,098 in benefits she had been paid on this claim.
In a decision mailed on June 28, 2010, the Appeal Tribunal found that Michener was liable to repay the $1,098. Michener did not file an appeal to the Board from the Appeal Tribunal's refund determination. Michener filed a notice of appeal with this court on July 6, 2010.
After the clerk of the court questioned whether the Board's decision was final and appealable as of right pursuant to Rule 2:2-3(a)(2), Michener filed a motion for leave to appeal the Board's decision pursuant to Rule 2:5-6(a). We granted the motion, and in our order we stated that Michener was not required to exhaust her administrative remedies regarding the refund determination because she had represented that she was not challenging that decision.
The scope of our review in an appeal from a final determination of an administrative agency is strictly limited. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997) (citing Public Serv. Elec. v. N.J. Dep't of Envtl. Protec., 101 N.J. 95,103 (1985)). An agency's decision may not be set aside unless shown to be arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Ibid. (citing In re Warren, 117 N.J. 295, 296 (1989)). 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." Ibid. (quoting George Harms Constr. v. N.J. Tpk. Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994)).
Michener argues that the Board erred by finding that she is not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits for the period from June 14, 2009 through September 5, 2009. Michener contends that, although she worked as a part-time substitute teacher in the school year that ended in June 2009, she did not have a "reasonable assurance" of employment as a full-time teacher in the following academic year. We disagree.
The Unemployment Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 43:21-1 to -71, is a remedial act, "the primary objective of [which] . . . is to provide a cushion for the workers of New Jersey 'against the shocks and rigors of unemployment.'" Carpet Remnant Warehouse v. N.J. Dept. of Labor, 125 N.J. 567, 581 (1991) (quoting Provident Inst. for Sav. in Jersey City v. Div. of Employment Sec., 32 N.J. 585, 590 (1960)). Unemployment benefits are only paid to those who meet the Act's eligibility requirements. Stauhs v. Bd. of Review, 93 N.J. Super. 451, 455 (App. Div. 1967). A person seeking unemployment compensation has the burden of proving his or her entitlement to those benefits. Stonco v. Bd. of Review, 106 N.J. Super. 6, 9 (App. Div. 1969).
In this matter, the Board found that Michener was not eligible for benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(g)(1). The statute provides in pertinent part that, a person who performs instructional, research or principal administrative services for an educational institution shall not be paid [unemployment compensation benefits] based on such services for any week of unemployment commencing during the period between two successive academic years . . . if there is a contract or reasonable assurance that such individual will perform services in any such capacity for any educational institution in the second of such academic years or terms. [Ibid.]
Moreover, N.J.A.C. 12:17-12.4(a) provides that an employee of an educational institution is not eligible for benefits for any week that begins during the period between academic years or terms if the employee has a "reasonable assurance" of returning to work "in such capacity" in the succeeding academic year. The regulation also states that
1. The term "reasonable assurance" of returning to work means a written, oral, or other implied agreement that the employee shall perform services in any such capacity during the next academic year, term, or remainder of a term. "Any such capacity" means the same or similar capacity and refers to the type of services provided, that is, a professional capacity as provided by N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(g)(1) or nonprofessional capacity as provided by N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(g)(2).
3. An employee who is employed for all or part of a term in a day-to-day substitute position has reasonable assurance of recall if he or she is placed on a substitute list for the next academic year or term.
Here, the Board found the Pennsbury and the Lawrence Township school districts had employed Michener as a substitute teacher in the 2008-2009 school year. Both districts asked if Michener would be willing to work as a substitute teacher in the school year commencing in September 2009. Michener wrote to the school districts and advised that she would return to work for the districts as a substitute teacher.
Thus, in the period from June 14, 2009, to September 5, 2009, Michener had a "reasonable assurance" of returning to work in both districts as a substitute teacher in the school year commencing in September 2009. Therefore, the Board correctly determined that Michener was not eligible for benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(g)(1).
Michener nevertheless argues that she is entitled to receive unemployment benefits because her positions as a substitute teacher in Pennsbury and Lawrence Township were not the same as the full-time teaching position she held in Hamilton Township until June 30, 2008. We disagree. The key question raised by Michener's claim was whether she had a "reasonable assurance" of employment in the 2009-2010 academic year in the same capacity as her employment in the previous academic year. The fact that Michener had been employed by Hamilton Township as a full-time teacher through June 30, 2008, had no bearing on that issue.
Michener also contends that her claim for unemployment benefits for June 14, 2009 to September 5, 2009, was merely an extension of the claim she submitted after she lost her full-time teaching position in Hamilton Township in June 2008. Again, we disagree. Once Michener became employed in September 2008 as a substitute teacher for Pennsbury and Lawrence Township, she had to meet the requirements of N.J.S.A. 43:21-6(g)(1) in order to qualify for benefits for any weeks of unemployment during the 2009 summer recess. The Board correctly found that she had not done so.
Furthermore, despite her claim to the contrary, Michener was not eligible to receive extended unemployment benefits pursuant to 26 U.S.C.A. § 3304, note 102, which provides, among other things, that extended benefits may only be paid to persons who have "exhausted all rights to regular" unemployment compensation under state law. Michener was paid unemployment benefits in the 2008 summer recess, but the payment of those benefits ceased when she became employed in the 2008-2009 school year. Michener did not qualify for extended benefits because she never "exhausted" the maximum amount of benefits that could have been paid on her 2008 claim.
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