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Crystal Mandall v. Board of Review


February 10, 2012


On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 290,576.

Per curiam.


Submitted February 1, 2012

Before Judges Waugh and St. John.

Appellant Crystal Mandall appeals from the final agency decision of respondent Department of Labor, Board of Review (Board), denying her application for unemployment benefits. We affirm.

Mandall was employed as a dental assistant by respondent New Jersey Team Dental Center, PA (Dental Center), from November 2007 until her termination in April 2010. She was a valued employee of the Dental Center prior to her termination. On April 20, she was arrested on criminal charges, some of which had been dismissed at the time the Board's letter brief was filed. She kept in touch with the Dental Center through a relative, promising to return to work as soon as she was released. She remained incarcerated until May 1.

On the day of her release, Mandall sent a text message to the Dental Center stating that she would return to work on the next business day. She was informed that she had been replaced because of the length of her absence. Although the dentist for whom she had worked at the Dental Center sought to assist her in finding other employment, those efforts were not successful.

Mandall applied for unemployment benefits on May 23. She received unemployment payments for two weeks, but was then notified that she was not eligible for benefits because she had left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work. See N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). She appealed that determination to the Appeal Tribunal. Following a telephonic hearing on August 11, the Appeal Tribunal found that Mandall was not qualified to receive benefits. She appealed that decision to the Board, which affirmed on February 24, 2011. This appeal followed.

The scope of our review of administrative agency action is limited and highly deferential. It is restricted 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. [Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 211 (1997) (quoting George Harms Constr. Co. v. N.J. Tpk. Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994)).]

So long as the Board's decision is supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record and was neither "arbitrary, capricious, [nor] unreasonable," it will be affirmed. Id. at 210 (citing In re Warren, 117 N.J. 295, 296 (1989)).

We review factual findings made by an administrative agency deferentially. On appeal, "'the test is not whether an appellate court would come to the same conclusion if the original determination was its to make, but rather whether the factfinder could reasonably so conclude upon the proofs.'" Ibid. (quoting Charatan v. Bd. of Review, 20 N.J. Super. 74, 79 (App. Div. 1985)). So long as the factual findings are supported by "'sufficient credible evidence, courts are obliged to accept them.'" Ibid. (quoting Self v. Bd. of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 459 (1982); Goodman v. London Metals Exchange, Inc., 86 N.J. 19, 28-29 (1981)).

N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) provides that an individual who leaves work "voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work" will be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. Although a prior version of the statute precluded benefits for someone who "left work voluntarily without good cause," the statute was amended in 1961 to require that the good cause be "attributable to such work." Brady, supra, 152 N.J. at 213-14; Stauhs v. Bd. of Review, 93 N.J. Super. 451, 454-55 (App. Div. 1967).

Clearly, Mandall's incarceration was not voluntary. However, her inability to report to work was not related to her employment. We faced nearly identical facts in Fennell v. Board of Review, 297 N.J. Super. 319, 325 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 151 N.J. 464 (1997), where we said the following: Appellant lost his job because of incarceration in default of bail. No matter how sympathetic the facts, this bore no relationship to his work. The agency's decision to disqualify appellant from benefits because he voluntarily left his job without good cause attributable to work is supported by substantial credible evidence and is neither arbitrary nor capricious.

Consequently, we are constrained to find that the Board's application of the statute to preclude Mandall's application for benefits was legally correct.

A person who has received benefits when not entitled to do so is obliged to repay them, N.J.S.A. 43:21-16(d), even if she received them in good faith. See ibid.; see also Fischer v. Bd. of Review, 123 N.J. Super. 263, 266 (App. Div. 1973). In light of Mandall's disqualification for benefits, she is statutorily required to reimburse the $844 in unemployment benefits that were paid in error.



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