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Stasia Noga v. Board of Review and Straval Machine Co.

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


June 25, 2012

STASIA NOGA, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW AND STRAVAL MACHINE CO., INC., RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket Nos. 288,054 and 306,180.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 21, 2012

Before Judges Alvarez and Skillman.

Stasia Noga appeals from December 30, 2010 final decisions of the Board of Review of the Department of Labor (the Board) denying her unemployment benefits on the ground that she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the work under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a), and finding her therefore also ineligible for disability benefits during unemployment. See N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(f)(1)(F). The Board also ordered Noga to refund $834 in unemployment benefits which she had collected. Noga appealed both matters, which we consolidate. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

Early in May 2010, Noga was advised that her sister, who had cancer, was released from the hospital. In the past, Noga's sister had cared for her mother, who suffered from dementia, but now both needed care. Noga had been employed by Straval Machine Company (Straval) as an office clerk from April 8, 2008, through May 7, 2010, her last day of work. Noga filed for unemployment online on May 9, 2010. On May 11, she e-mailed her supervisor at Straval, Ed Simin, (and may have left a phone message to the same effect) that she could "not manage [her] personal stuff and work at the same time[,]" and asked for a leave of absence. Noga gave Simin the name of a person who might be a suitable replacement and apologized for leaving her position without prior notice.

Simin responded that same date expressing regret that Noga had decided to leave Straval, and advising that since her position "was a full time job I will need to hire someone else immediately as you had acknowledged below. . . . I just wish you could have given me more notice of this resignation." In response, Noga e-mailed Simin to the effect that if there were any questions regarding her "job duties" she would always be available to assist. At both Appeal Tribunal hearings, Noga testified that she discussed taking a leave of absence with Simin but had not made a formal request. She could not explain how, or specify when, she made these requests, nor could she explain the reason she allowed Simin's statement that she had resigned to stand without being corrected.

During the course of the July 19, 2010 Appeal Tribunal hearing, Simin introduced the employee handbook requiring employees to give at least fifteen or thirty days' written notice of a request for family medical leave, depending on the foreseeability of the problem. Even in the case of a "certifiable emergency," employees were required to provide notice as soon as possible. The handbook further required employees to notify his or her supervisor of the anticipated date of his or her return to work no later than two weeks before the anticipated return date.

Although Noga testified that she intended to return to her employment on May 17, she did not notify Straval of this intent.

Instead, he understood from her e-mails that she was simply leaving her job for an indefinite period to care for her mother. When Noga was asked the reason she filed for unemployment two days after leaving employment, if she was only intending to take a leave of absence, she said it was a "mistake."

Noga was paid $834 in unemployment benefits for the period from May 15, 2010, through May 22, 2010. Because of the subsequent determination that she was ineligible for benefits, she was required to reimburse that sum, $834. See N.J.S.A. 43:21-16(d) and N.J.A.C. 12:17-14.3.

Because of Noga's ineligibility for unemployment benefits, she was also found ineligible on October 4, 2010, for the disability benefits for which she subsequently applied. Noga appealed that decision to the Appeal Tribunal, where, after a hearing, the denial of disability benefits was affirmed on November 30, 2010. She appealed that decision to the Board, which in turn affirmed the Appeal Tribunal on the same date they affirmed the Appeal Tribunal's decision denying her unemployment benefits.

The burden of proof rests upon Noga to establish her right to unemployment compensation, see Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 218 (1997), and our review of agency determinations is limited. In re Stalworth, 208 N.J. 182, 194 (2011); In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999). We defer to such decisions, unless they are found to be arbitrary, capricious, or unsupported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole. Russo v. Bd. of Trs., Police & Fire Retirement Sys., 206 N.J. 14, 27 (2011); In re Carter, 191 N.J. 474, 482 (2007). We ask whether the agency's findings could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence in the record, "considering 'the proofs as a whole,' with due regard to the opportunity of the one who heard the witnesses to judge of their credibility." Taylor, supra, 158 N.J. at 656 (quoting Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965)). We do not substitute our judgment for that of an administrative agency as to the persuasiveness of the evidence. In re Certificate of Need Granted to the Harborage, 300 N.J. Super. 363, 379 (App. Div. 1997). We do not "weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, draw inferences and conclusions from the evidence, or resolve conflicts therein." Ibid. (quoting De Vitis v. N.J. Racing Comm'n, 202 N.J. Super. 484, 489-90 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 102 N.J. 337 (1985)). We only intercede when the interests of justice require it. See Campbell v. N.J. Racing Comm'n, 169 N.J. 579, 587-88 (2001). In this case, the interests of justice do not require any intervention.

N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) provides that a person is ineligible for unemployment benefits if he or she leaves work voluntarily and for cause not attributable to the work. As the Appeal Tribunal noted, a claimant who leaves work for a personal reason is subject to disqualification for benefits as it is not a reason attributable to the work. Self v. Bd. of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 457 (1982).

We agree with the Board's conclusion that Noga's testimony that she did not resign, but only intended to take a leave of absence to care for her mother, is refuted by the e-mail she sent her employer. Furthermore, as the Appeal Tribunal hearing examiner explained and the Board agreed, "substantial evidence" existed that Noga knew the procedure for obtaining leave under the Family Medical Leave Act and failed to follow it. Noga's e-mail could only be read to mean that due to her personal situation, she was resigning from her job and would be caring for her mother full-time. This reason, no matter how laudable, is personal and unrelated to the work, thereby disqualifying her from receiving benefits.

N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(f)(1)(F) authorizes payment of disability benefits to employees who are "'covered individual[s],' as defined in subsection 3 of the 'Temporary Disability Benefits Law . . . .'" Those individuals are entitled to benefits so long as they remain "eligible to receive benefits under this chapter . . . except for the inability to work . . . ." N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(f)(1). Since Noga was not eligible for unemployment benefits in the first instance, neither was she eligible for disability benefits.

The agency decisions were not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Substantial evidence supports them.

Affirmed.

20120625

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