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Judges order hearing on unemployment benefits

August 4, 2011

A man, whose request for a continuance in a hearing regarding his unemployment benefits was denied by an administrative law judge, is entitled to a hearing on the matter, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

An administrative law judge determined that J.W.B. hadn’t shown good cause to grant his request for a continuance of a hearing regarding his receiving of unemployment benefits. His former company challenged the grant of benefits and the ALJ set the matter for a telephonic hearing on Nov. 10, 2010. On Nov. 3, J.W.B.’s counsel filed a motion for continuance because J.W.B.’s mother had just died and he would need to be out of state for six weeks and would not be available for the hearing. The ALJ denied the motion, finding he didn’t demonstrate good cause for the continuance.

On the day the hearing was set, J.W.B.’s attorney filed another motion for a continuance because J.W.B. was out of town and because she had another hearing with a different ALJ at the same time as J.W.B.’s hearing. The judge tried calling the attorney and got a busy signal. The ALJ issued her opinion that J.W.B. failed to participate and reversed the determination that J.W.B. was eligible for unemployment benefits. The Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development affirmed the ALJ’s decision.

In J.W.B. v. Review Board, No. 93A02-1101-EX-5, the Court of Appeals noted that except for the ALJ noting that J.W.B. didn’t participate in the hearing and that he didn’t sustain his burden of proof that he had voluntarily left his employment for good cause, her decision is silent about the conclusion that the grounds stated in support of the motions for continuance didn’t constitute sufficient cause for granting them. The review board’s wholesale adoption of the ALJ’s findings and conclusions is also silent about its conclusion that the denial of the motions for continuance should be affirmed, or whether that issue was even considered by it, wrote Judge James Kirsch.

The ALJ stated she denied J.W.B.’s motions because he hadn’t shown good cause. “Good cause” hasn’t been defined for purposes of a motion to continue an unemployment-benefits appeal hearing, wrote the judge, but it has been defined in other contexts relating to unemployment benefits.

“We believe the following passage ... is worth reproducing here: ‘While we agree no such definition appears in Indiana statutes, regulations, or the Review Board’s materials submitted in this case, the absence of definition would be a substantive issue as to lack of clarity in the law, not a procedural deficiency. While the lack of legal definition could, in some cases, impede this court’s review of a Review Board decision to the extent we must have some legal standard to apply to the facts found by the Review Board, it does not do so here, in part because we are not faced with a pure question of law,’" wrote Judge Kirsch, citing S.S. v. Review Bd. Of Ind. Dep’t of Workforce Dev., 941 N.E.2d 550 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011).

Disagreeing with the ALJ’s and review board’s conclusion that good cause was not shown, the judges ordered the review board to grant J.W.B. a hearing upon due notice.

Either of the reasons he gave for a continuance on their face constituted good cause, and he was prejudiced by the denial of his motions, the court concluded.

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