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Sparks v. Laura Drake Insurance and Financial Services, Inc.

Supreme Court of Idaho

September 10, 2018

CARLA SPARKS, Claimant-Appellant,
v.
LAURA DRAKE INSURANCE AND FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC., Employer, and IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Respondent.

          Appeal from Industrial Commission of the State of Idaho.

         The decision of the Commission is affirmed. Costs on appeal are awarded to IDOL.

          Carla Sparks, Buhl, appellant pro se.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for Respondent. M. Scott Keim argued.

          BEVAN, J.

         I. Nature of the Case

         Carla Sparks appeals an Idaho Industrial Commission (the "Commission") decision, which affirmed an Idaho Department of Labor ("IDOL") finding that she was not entitled to unemployment benefits after being discharged by her employer, Laura Drake Insurance and Financial Services, Inc. ("Drake Insurance"). The appeals examiner held a telephonic hearing to determine Sparks' unemployment benefit eligibility, but Sparks failed to appear. As a result, Laura Drake's sworn testimony about the details of Sparks' termination was undisputed. The appeals examiner found that Sparks was terminated for cause and thus was not entitled to unemployment benefits. The Commission affirmed, and Sparks appealed to this Court. We affirm the Commission's decision because Sparks was properly found ineligible for unemployment benefits and the hearing officer/Commission's denial of her request to provide additional evidence after the initial hearing was not an abuse of discretion.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         On March 31, 2017, IDOL issued a personal eligibility determination that found Sparks was eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits and that Drake Insurance was the chargeable employer. On April 3, 2017, Drake Insurance appealed IDOL's determination, asserting that Sparks was terminated for cause. On April 14, 2017, IDOL mailed the notice for a hearing on Drake Insurance's appeal to Sparks' address on record. The hearing was scheduled for April 26, 2017. The administrative appeal was heard by the appeals examiner by telephone; however, Sparks failed to appear. Laura Drake was present and her testimony was uncontradicted due to Sparks' absence. The appeals examiner reversed the initial personal eligibility determination the next day, finding that Sparks was discharged for cause. On April 28, 2017, Sparks filed a request to reopen the hearing, stating she was unable to attend the hearing because she did not receive notice. Sparks alleged that because the envelope was too large for her mail box, she had to pick it up at the post office window, which was closed because it was after hours. On May 1, 2017, the appeals examiner denied Sparks' request to reopen the hearing.

         On May 5, 2017, Sparks filed an appeal with the Commission to reopen the evidentiary proceedings. On June 5, 2017, the Commission issued its decision and found that Sparks had not provided a compelling reason to allow an additional hearing. The Commission found that Sparks' negligence in failing to retrieve the notice of hearing, which had been properly served on her, was insufficient to justify her failure to appear. The Commission also conducted a de novo review of the appeals examiner's decision and found that Sparks was terminated by Drake Insurance for cause; therefore, Sparks was not eligible for unemployment benefits. On June 15, 2017, Sparks wrote to the Commission again, requesting to reopen the evidentiary proceedings. On August 29, 2017, the Commission affirmed the decision of the appeals examiner. On September 26, 2017, Sparks filed an appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court.

         III. Issues on Appeal

         1. Did the Commission abuse its discretion in denying Sparks' request to reopen the evidentiary proceedings?

         2. Is the Commission's holding that Sparks was not eligible for unemployment benefits supported by substantial and competent evidence?

         IV. ...


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