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COA: Dealership not denied due process

December 18, 2008

The Indiana Court of Appeals directly addressed for the first time today the due process implications of an administrative law judge conducting a hearing without the participation of a party who received notice but couldn't be contacted by telephone at the time of the hearing. The appellate court found a car dealership's due process hadn't been violated when it failed to participate in a telephone hearing with the administrative law judge and a former employee.

In Art Hill, Inc. v. Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and Terrence Horan, No. 93A02-0801-EX-34, Art Hill appealed the decision by the Unemployment Insurance Review Board to affirm the findings and conclusions of an administrative law judge who granted Terrence Horan's application for unemployment benefits.

Art Hill argued the review board erred in affirming the decision because it didn't participate in the hearing.

The Department of Workforce Development denied Horan's claim for unemployment benefits. After Horan filed a notice of appeal, the administrative law judge in Lafayette sent notice to Horan and Art Hill, who were in Gary, that the hearing would be held by telephone and both parties had to submit a number where they could be reached for the hearing. Art Hill called the administrative law judge's office two days before the hearing and gave a phone number with the extension 5353.

On the day of the hearing, the judge reached Horan but no one answered at the Art Hill number provided. The administrative law judge found the dealership failed to participate in the hearing and granted Horan's application. The review board affirmed the decision.

On appeal, Art Hill explained the 5353 extension didn't have a speakerphone so the dealership moved to a different number. It tried calling the administrative law judge's phone number but only got voicemail.

But the company failed to give reasonable notice that it could be reached at a different phone number and didn't leave someone at the original number who could transfer the call to the new number, wrote Judge Margret Robb. In addition, the company waited until 15 minutes after the hearing began to attempt to reach the judge.

Art Hill wasn't denied due process by not participating in the hearing, the Court of Appeals concluded. The appellate court turned to due process implications of the right to be present at a hearing in other contexts because it hadn't previously tackled the issue regarding a telephone hearing, and it saw no justification for treating the right to be present at an unemployment hearing any differently than the right to be present in any other context.

"Therefore, we hold that a party to an unemployment hearing may voluntarily waive the opportunity for a fair hearing where the party received actual notice of the hearing and failed to appear at or participate in the hearing," wrote Judge Robb.

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