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Wittkopf v. Bon Appetit Management Co.

Supreme Court of Idaho

July 24, 2018

WILLIAM M. WITTKOPF, Claimant/Appellant,
v.
BON APPETIT MANAGEMENT CO., Employer/Respondent, IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Respondent.

          Appeal from the Industrial Commission, State of Idaho.

         The order of the Industrial Commission is vacated. This case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

          William M. Wittkopf, pro se, Caldwell, for Claimant/Appellant.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for Respondent.

          BEVAN, JUSTICE.

         I. NATURE OF THE CASE

         This is an appeal arising from an order of the Industrial Commission affirming the decision of an Appeals Examiner. The Appeals Examiner found it did not have jurisdiction to hear William Wittkopf's ("Wittkopf") protest of an eligibility determination for unemployment benefits because it was untimely. We vacate the order of the Industrial Commission and remand this case for further proceedings.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

         On July 11, 2013, the Idaho Department of Labor ("IDOL") mailed an eligibility determination for unemployment benefits (the "2013 determination") to Wittkopf. This determination found Wittkopf underreported his wages for several weeks, which resulted in an overpayment in unemployment benefits. As a result, Wittkopf was: (1) ordered to repay the overpayment; (2) ineligible for any unemployment benefits for a fifty-two week period; and (3) assessed a civil penalty. Additionally, Wittkopf was told that he would remain ineligible for unemployment benefits until all amounts were repaid. Pursuant to Idaho Code section 72- 1368(3) the last day for Wittkopf to file a protest to the 2013 determination was July 25, 2013. Wittkopf failed to file a protest.

         IDOL attempted to collect on the 2013 determination over the next year without success. Subsequently in early 2016, Wittkopf filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The debt he owed to the state of Idaho was included in his bankruptcy and was discharged by order of the Bankruptcy Court.

         In September 2016, Wittkopf began filing new claims for unemployment benefits with IDOL because he worked a seasonal job and was not receiving any income in the winter months. After not receiving benefits for several weeks, Wittkopf called IDOL on September 26, 2016. IDOL informed Wittkopf that he was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he had failed to pay back his overpayment, civil penalty, and interest he owed IDOL, even though those amounts were discharged in bankruptcy. IDOL explained that it had stopped seeking to collect this amount because of Wittkopf's bankruptcy discharge; however, IDOL kept track of this amount and refused to pay Wittkopf any unemployment benefits until it was paid. On September 27, 2016, Wittkopf mailed a letter to IDOL protesting the denial of his unemployment benefits. Wittkopf claimed in this letter that he was eligible for unemployment benefits because his bankruptcy discharged any amount he owed to IDOL.

         On October 18, 2016, a telephonic hearing was held before an Appeals Examiner. The Appeals Examiner construed Wittkopf's September 27th letter as a protest of the 2013 determination. Two days later the Appeals Examiner issued a written decision finding there was no jurisdiction to hear Wittkopf's protest because it was not filed within fourteen days of when it was issued on July 25, 2013, as required by Idaho Code section 72-1368. On November 3, 2016, Wittkopf appealed the Appeals Examiner's decision to the Industrial Commission. On January 27, 2017, the Industrial Commission affirmed the Appeals Examiner's decision. On March 8, 2017, Wittkopf wrote a letter to the Industrial Commission stating he wanted to appeal its order to this Court. The Industrial Commission filed a formal appeal on Wittkopf's behalf, in compliance with Idaho Appellate Rule 17.

          III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When this Court reviews a decision from the Industrial Commission, we exercise free review over questions of law. Uhl v. Ballard Med. Prod., Inc., 1 ...


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