There were two decisions this week on unemployment benefits from the Minnesota Court of Appeals.  In the first decision, the Court of Appeals concluded that an applicant quit employment when that applicant applied for unemployment benefits.  The second decision is unique because it addresses the issue of whether an overpayment of unemployment benefits is a debt subject to Revenue Recapture and contains a dissent.

1. A14-1418, Amanulah Dharsee, Relator, vs. Rubber Industries, Inc., Respondent, Department of Employment and Economic Development, Respondent.

Relator challenges the unemployment-law judge’s (ULJ) determination that he is ineligible for unemployment benefits, arguing that he did not have a fair hearing because he did not have an interpreter (although the ULJ continued the hearing so that Relator could obtain an interpreter) and that the ULJ erred in finding that he quit his employment.  Dharsee’s doctor concluded that he was still unable to return to his former position but possibly able to do light-duty work. Dharsee contends that others contacted Rubber Industries on his behalf and learned that no light-duty work was available. In February 2014, Dharsee applied for unemployment benefits, asserting that he had been discharged from his employment. Rubber Industries concluded that Dharsee quit when it received notice of his application for benefits.  The ULJ concluded that Dharsee quit, thereby making him ineligible for unemployment benefits, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

2. A14-0727, Eunice Smith, Relator, vs. Department of Employment and Economic Development, Respondent.

Relator Eunice Smith challenges a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) unemployment law judge’s (ULJ) decision that she owes a debt recoverable under the Minnesota Revenue Recapture Act. Relator argues on appeal that she owes no debt because the November 20 order opinion reversed without remand and therefore eliminated any debt owed to DEED for overpaid benefits. DEED argues that the November 20 order opinion reversed only the fraud penalty and that the remaining debt is properly subject to recapture. Both parties agree that the Minnesota Revenue Recapture Act procedures were followed and that the sole issue on appeal is whether relator owes a debt.

The Court of Appeals ruled that because the November 20 order opinion is unambiguous in reversing relator’s fraud penalty and determining that relator had not appealed or argued the overpayment issue, the law of the case requires the conclusion that a debt exists and that it is recoverable under the Minnesota Revenue Recapture Act.

In dissent, Judge Chutich wrote:

I respectfully dissent because I disagree with the majority about the effect of our previous order dated November 20, 2013. Without attacking that order collaterally, I note that the plain terms of the order unambiguously reversed the unemployment-law judge’s April 16, 2013 decision on reconsideration. The reconsideration order, in turn, reaffirmed an order dated January 7, 2013, in which the unemployment-law judge specifically considered not only the fraud issue, but also the issue of whether Eunice Smith performed 32 hours or more of services in a week.

Moreover, the January 7 order contained language suggesting that it was a consolidation of the previous decision (issued on December 28, 2012) that pertained to the same two issues (fraud and overpayment), but was simply issued to inform Smith of the amount of the fraud penalty.

Finally, in the words of the dissent, "[the] proceeding [i]s an astounding procedural morass," created by the ULJ, the applicant, and the Department itself.  For all of these reasons, the dissent would reverse the decision of the unemployment-law judge that a debt existed that could be subject to revenue recapture.  However, the dissent is just that: the dissent, meaning a disagreement with the majority opinion, and the majority -- not the dissent -- has the final say, expresses the official opinion of the court, and carries the day.

If you are denied unemployment benefits, or are an employer who wants to challenge a former employee's eligibility for benefits, your best bet is to meet with an attorney who handles unemployment appeals to discuss your options.  To that end, I represent both applicants and employers in unemployment appeals.  Please call (763) 450-9494 today to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.

WARNING: The information contained in this blog post does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your situation.  Reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C.  Also, Tim is licensed only in state and federal courts in Minnesota.  As such, any information provided in this blog post pertains only to those jurisdictions.  Further, you should always discuss your situation with an attorney before taking any action based on what you may read in this blog.  To that end, please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.