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06/26/91 DONNA D. STEFFEN v. DAVISON

Filed: June 26, 1991.

DONNA D. STEFFEN, SSN 504-44-XXXX, CLAIMANT-APPELLANT,
v.
DAVISON, COPPLE, COPPLE & COPPLE, EMPLOYER, AND STATE OF IDAHO, DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT, RESPONDENTS



Appeal from an order of the Industrial Commission, State of Idaho.

Boyle, Justice. Bakes, C.j., and Johnson and McDevitt, JJ., concur. Bistline, Justice, Concurring specially.

Author: Boyle

This is an appeal from an order of the Industrial Commission which affirmed a decision of the State of Idaho Department of Employment appeals examiner ordering repayment of unemployment insurance benefits. We are called upon to determine whether the record supports the appeals examiner's determination that appellant Donna Steffen voluntarily quit her employment without good cause and that she received an overpayment of unemployment benefits.

Donna Steffen, an experienced legal secretary, began working as a secretary for respondent law firm on March 27, 1989, on a probationary status, and continued that employment until May 5, 1989. Prior to working for respondent she had been receiving unemployment insurance benefits based on wages earned from a previous employer.

A review of the record before us indicates that within one week after Steffen was hired by respondent, another secretary was terminated. Steffen became concerned that she could not perform adequately to satisfy the attorneys and she perceived some instability in the secretarial staff. In addition, Steffen grew to mistrust her supervising attorney and feared her employment might not be permanent. On May 4, 1989, Steffen found a handwritten note on her desk which her supervising attorney had made the night before while talking with a client. When Steffen asked the attorney about the note, he wadded it up and laughingly told her that he did those things to make her think she was losing her mind and that he might ask her to find a file that does not exist. Steffen became upset as a result of this incident and felt the attorney was intentionally attempting to make her job more difficult. Steffen quit her employment with the law firm on May 5, 1989.

Steffen was paid full or partial unemployment benefits for the period of May 6, 1989 through September 23, 1989, with the exception of the week ending June 24, 1989, for which she received no benefits. When Steffen filed her unemployment benefit

claim for weeks ending April 29, and May 6, 1989, she did not report any wages earned or employment even though she had worked for respondent law firm during that period of time. In addition to seeking information about earnings and employment, item 8(c) of the claim form filled out by Steffen asks "If you are no longer working for any of the above employers, for other than lack of work, check a box and explain in # 11." The foregoing question has three boxes for placement of a mark alongside the words "Discharge," "Quit," and "Other." (See attached Claimant's Exhibit 5.) Steffen did not answer this question and did not check any of the three boxes for the reason that she did not feel it necessary to report her separation from respondent law firm because she considered her employment to be probationary.

Following a hearing on the Notice of Overpayment, the appeals examiner found that claimant voluntarily quit her employment with respondent law firm without good cause and ordered the case returned to the claims examiner for repayment of $2,504.00 in overpaid unemployment benefits. The Industrial Commission reviewed the record of the proceedings and held that the decision of the appeals examiner was supported by substantial and competent evidence. We affirm.

I.

Scope of Judicial Review

It is well established that the Court's review of unemployment compensation cases is limited by the Idaho Constitution and prior decisions of this Court to reviewing only questions of law. Idaho Const. art. 5, § 9; Jensen v. Siemsen, 118 Idaho 1, 794 P.2d 271 (1990); Puckett v. Idaho Dep't of Corrections, 107 Idaho 1022, 695 P.2d 407 (1985); Parker v. Saint Maries Plywood, 101 Idaho 415, 614 P.2d 955 (1980); Harris v. Green Tree, Inc., 100 Idaho 227, 596 P.2d 99 (1979); Simmons v. Department of Employment, 99 Idaho 290, 581 P.2d 336 (1978); Booth v. City of Burley, 99 Idaho 229, 580 P.2d 75 (1978); Hutchinson v. J.R. Simplot Co., 98 Idaho 346, 563 P.2d 404 (1977). In addition, our review in cases involving factual disputes is restricted to determining whether findings of fact by the Industrial Commission are supported by substantial and competent evidence in the record. Jensen v. Siemsen, 118 Idaho 1, 794 P.2d 271 (1990); Burnside v. Gate City Steel Corp., 112 Idaho 1040, 739 P.2d 339 (1987); Ullrich v. Thorpe Elec., 109 Idaho 820, 712 P.2d 521 (1985); Booth v. City of Burley, 99 Idaho 229, 580 P.2d 75 (1978). As this Court stated in Booth, we decline to "independently adopt findings of fact at variance with those of the Industrial Commission where such findings are supported by substantial and competent evidence in the record." 99 Idaho at 232, 580 P.2d at 78. We have likewise held that where the factual findings of the Industrial Commission are sustained by substantial and competent, though conflicting evidence, they will not be reversed on appeal. Jensen v. Siemsen, 118 Idaho 1, 794 P.2d 271 (1990); Kyle v. Beco Corp., 109 Idaho 267, 707 P.2d 378 (1985); Wood v. Quali-Dent Dental Clinics, 107 Idaho 1020, 695 P.2d 405 (1985); Cornwell v. Kootenai County Sheriff, 106 Idaho 823, 683 P.2d 859 (1984).

II.

Industrial Commission Review

In enacting I.C. § 72-1368(g), the legislature provided that the Industrial Commission's review would be based upon the record of the proceedings before the appeals examiner. The Industrial Commission's responsibility and scope of review in employment compensation claims is clearly set forth in I.C. § 72-1368(g).

The record before the Commission shall consist of the record of proceedings before the appeals examiner, unless it appears to the Commission that the interests of Justice require that the interested parties be permitted to present additional evidence. In that event, the Commission may, in its sole discretion, conduct a hearing to receive additional evidence or may refer the matter back to the appeals examiner for an additional hearing and decision. On the basis of the record of proceedings before the appeals examiner

as well as any additional evidence, if allowed, the Commission shall affirm, reverse, modify, set aside or revise the decision of the appeals examiner or may refer the matter back ...


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