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Majority upholds dismissal of unemployment benefits appeal

January 26, 2011

The Indiana Court of Appeals split today on whether a woman’s appeal after she was denied unemployment benefits should be reinstated. The woman claimed she missed the administrative law judge’s phone call because of confusion regarding different time zones.

S.S. appealed the denial of her unemployment benefits and a telephonic hearing was set. S.S. lives in Hammond and the administrative law judge was in Indianapolis. The notice she received said her hearing would be at 9:15 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and that the ALJ would call all the parties. The notice also gave instructions regarding different time zones in Indiana and said it's S.S.’s responsibility to know which time zone she is in and when the hearing will take place.

S.S. missed the ALJ’s call because she was in a federal building attending a food stamp hearing and believed the hearing was set for 10:15 a.m. Central Standard Time. Her appeal was dismissed, and her request for reinstatement was denied by the appeals director and the review board.

Chief Judge Margret Robb and Judge Patricia Riley affirmed in S.S. v. Review Board, No. 93A02-1006-EX-738. They concluded that S.S. was afforded due process and a reasonable opportunity for a hearing. They also held there weren’t any errors in the review board’s consideration of evidence or its denial of her request to reinstate her appeal. They noted she could have asked that the ALJ change the date or time of the unemployment hearing so she could attend both the food stamp and unemployment hearing, but she did not. The majority also decided that she wasn’t denied a reasonable opportunity to participate in a hearing even if she was confused by the time zones.

The majority also noted concern regarding the lack of statutory or regulatory authority governing the grant or denial of reinstatement of a Department of Workforce Development administrative appeal. The appeals director’s order cited a regulation that expired on Jan. 1, 2009, and hasn’t been readopted, wrote Chief Judge Robb. The review board’s appellate brief includes DWD Policy 2008-28, but that has not been promulgated as a rule.

“Absent authority in the statutes specifically governing the DWD, or in its properly promulgated regulations, there is simply no statutory or regulatory authority governing, among other things, the grant or denial of a request for reinstatement. Especially given that this issue is likely to recur with some frequency, we urge the DWD to promulgate an applicable rule. If the DWD fails to do so, then the legislature may need to take corrective action to fill this legal gap,” she wrote.

Judge Elaine Brown dissented, focusing on the review board’s denial of S.S.’s request for reinstatement. She believed S.S. timely filed her request as opposed to the arguments of the appeals director and review board that she filed it too early or too late.

“Plausible arguments about due process aside, and looking at the total picture, we have before us the situation of a stressed-out, financially strapped, unemployed woman who made the very common mistake of confusing the time for her hearing to be an hour later rather than an hour earlier than the stated time given the time zone she was in, a mistake made every day by those who must negotiate the two time zones existing among the various counties of Indiana,” she wrote.

She noted S.S.'s appeal may or may not have merit, but all she wants is to have the appeal heard.
 

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