Workforce Development entitled to summary judgment on claim against penalties

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development complied with the relevant statutes when issuing a letter informing a citizen of a determination against the agency and, thus, was entitled to summary judgment on the citizen’s claims against the penalties outlined in the letter, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In 2009 and 2011, Kristopher Hugunin received emergency unemployment benefits, but a later investigation revealed he had simultaneously received employment income. Thus, in May 2013, the Workforce Development Department sent Hugunin a letter with findings that he had “knowingly failed to disclose, or falsified material facts” that subjected him to penalties.

The letter also advised Hugunin that the determination would become final at the end of the month if he did not initiate an appeal, but Hugunin never responded to the letter. The department then filed a petition in August 2015 that sought to enforce the determinations in the letter and order Hugunin to pay $20,190.75, plus interest.

After Hugunin filed affirmative defenses and a jury demand, the department moved for summary judgment, arguing that Indiana Code section 22-4-13-1.1(a) required Hugunin to accurately report all earnings while claiming benefits. His failure to do so meant he was required to pay the full amount of benefits he received, plus penalties, the department said.

For his part, Hugunin admitted the letter was sent to his last known address, yet he was in the Porter County Jail when the letter was sent to him, so he did not receive it. He further claimed the department failed to serve him as an inmate in accordance with Indiana Trial Rule 4.3.

The Porter Superior Court summarily denied the motion for summary judgment without a hearing, prompting the interlocutory appeal in Indiana Department of Workforce Development v. Kristopher Hugunin, 64A05-1703-CC-583. In a reversal of the trial court’s decision on Oct. 27, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Rudolph Pyle initially noted that Hugunin failed to file an appellee’s brief.

Pyle then wrote that under I.C. 22-4-17-2(f), the department was only required to send the letter to Hugunin’s last known address, which was done. Thus, because the department complied with the relevant statute, it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

The trial court’s decision was, therefore, reversed and remanded with instructions to enter summary judgment in favor of the department.

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