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Dennis B. Current v. Haddons Fencing

December 8, 2011

DENNIS B. CURRENT, CLAIMANT-APPELLANT,
v.
HADDONS FENCING, INC. AND ADVANTAGE EMPLOYMENT SOLUTIONS, EMPLOYERS AND IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from the Industrial Commission of the State of Idaho.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burdick, Chief Justice

Twin Falls, November 2011

2011 Opinion No. 129

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Decision of Industrial Commission denying unemployment benefits, affirmed.

This case comes before this Court on an appeal by Dennis B. Current (Current) from the Idaho Industrial Commission's (Commission) denial of unemployment benefits. Current argues that the Commission erred in finding that he willfully made a false statement and in failing to call one of his witnesses. The Department of Labor (the Department) argues the Commission's findings are supported by substantial and competent evidence and should be upheld.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Current worked for Haddons Fencing, Inc. (Haddons Fencing) as a shop foreman from June 10, 2008, until September 12, 2009. On September 12, 2009, Current, concerned with reduced hours, discussed his employment status with Jan McLaughlin (Jan), the owner of Haddons Fencing. Current asked for either a raise or guaranteed hours. Jan responded that she could offer neither. According to Jan, Current then requested that he be laid off, so that he could collect unemployment benefits. Jan refused the request, and told Current to turn in his keys if he wanted to quit. Soon after, Current turned in his keys and corporate credit card. In the same time frame, Current arranged to work the harvest for Wada Farms. He agreed to the job on September 8, 2009, and was scheduled to start on September 15, 2009.

On September 14, 2009, Current electronically filed a claim with the Department for unemployment benefits. The online application provides several options to describe a claimant's separation from employment. Current chose "lack of work / laid off" over other options, including "quit."*fn1 Haddons Fencing reported to the Department that Current had quit. Department employees Gary Townsend (Townsend) and Bridgette Kerley (Kerley) investigated the inconsistency. In discussions with Current, Townsend and Kerley explained the distinction between the reasons for separation.*fn2 Current stood by his decision to mark "lack of work / laid off" because he felt his hours had been curtailed.

The Department issued two eligibility determinations. The first decision held that Current "did not provide accurate separation information in an attempt to obtain benefits to which he was not entitled." The second decision held that Current is ineligible for benefits because he "has not established the situation was of such proportion that he had no alternative but to quit." Current then asked for a hearing, which was scheduled for November 9, 2009, and took place on November 16, 2009. In his reason for this first appeal, Current stated that he had to find full time employment to meet his financial responsibilities. Appeals Examiner Janet Hardy (Examiner) conducted the hearing and affirmed the denial of benefits, finding that Current willfully made a false statement. "[Current] quit this employment for personal reasons. Thus, this separation was not for good cause in connection with the employment." Current timely asked for an appeal of the decision to the Commission.

On January 29, 2010, the Commission affirmed the findings of the Examiner. The Commission determined that Current was not deprived of due process, and that it will only consider evidence in the record established by the Examiner. In its decision, the Commission held that Current did not take any steps to admit new evidence or to request that the hearing be reopened. Current moved for reconsideration, and the Commission denied his request on April 29, 2010. Current timely appealed to this Court on May 28, 2010. On June 22, 2010, Current filed an Amended Notice of Appeal to this Court.

II. ISSUES ON APPEAL

Current raises the following issues on appeal:

1. Is there substantial evidence to support the hearing officer's determination that Current willfully made a false statement when he filed for unemployment benefits?

2. Was Current denied a fair hearing by the failure of the hearing officer to [contact] ...


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