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Ehrlich v. Maughan

Supreme Court of Idaho

April 4, 2019

DENISE M. EHRLICH, Claimant-Appellant,
v.
DELRAY MAUGHAN, M.D., P.L.L.C., Employer; ST. LUKE'S REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Cost Reimbursement Employer, IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Respondents.

          Appeal from the Industrial Commission of the State of Idaho. Chairman Thomas E. Limbaugh, presiding.

         The order of the Idaho Industrial Commission is affirmed.

          James Mitchell Law, Meridian, for appellant.

          Idaho Attorney General's office, Boise, for respondent.

          STEGNER, JUSTICE.

         Denise M. Ehrlich (Ehrlich) appeals from an order of the Idaho Industrial Commission (the Commission) that determined she was ineligible for unemployment benefits. The Commission affirmed the determination of the Idaho Department of Labor (the Department) and the Appeals Examiner that Ehrlich willfully underreported her weekly earnings. On appeal, Ehrlich contends that the Commission's finding that she willfully misrepresented her wages was clearly erroneous. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the Commission's decision.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         After losing her job of seventeen years with St. Luke's Regional Medical Center, Ehrlich applied for unemployment benefits with the Department on October 21, 2016. She began submitting weekly certifications of eligibility for benefits on April 15, 2017.

         The Department performed a routine audit of Ehrlich's weekly certification reports. As part of that audit, the Department requested that Ehrlich's employer, DelRay Maughan, M.D. (Maughan), verify Ehrlich's weekly earnings. The Department noticed a discrepancy between the wages Maughan reported Ehrlich had earned and the wages Ehrlich submitted in her weekly earnings reports for six of the weeks in which she sought unemployment benefits. On September 28, 2017, the Department mailed Ehrlich a letter notifying her of the discrepancies. Specifically, the Department's letter noted discrepancies six of the eight weeks between July 15, 2017, July 22, 2017, August 5, 2017, August 19, 2017, August 26, 2017, and September 2, 2017. The letter requested Ehrlich's explanation for the discrepancies by October 10, 2017.

         On October 10, 2017, Ehrlich called the Department and spoke with Melisa Huyck (Huyck), a Benefit Payment Control Supervisor for the Department. During the telephone call, Ehrlich admitted that she made a mistake and had entered her hourly wage rather than her total weekly earnings. However, she requested additional time in order to look into the discrepancies. Huyck extended the deadline to October 12, 2017.

         Ehrlich failed to reply by the new deadline. Subsequently, on October 17, 2017, the Department issued an eligibility determination ruling, finding Ehrlich willfully made false statements in order to obtain unemployment benefits. As part of the ruling, the Department: (1) determined Ehrlich would not be eligible for benefits from October 15, 2017, through October 13, 2018; (2) sought repayment of the benefits Ehrlich received to which she was not entitled; and (3) imposed a civil penalty.

         On October 26, 2017, Ehrlich sent the Department a letter (October 26 letter) explaining what the mistakes were and why she had made them. The letter included various documents including weekly certifications as well as timesheets submitted to her employer. The Department construed her letter to be an appeal of the Department's eligibility determination. As a result, the Department scheduled a telephonic hearing for November 13, 2017.

         On November 13, 2017, the parties participated in the telephonic hearing with the Appeals Examiner to determine whether Ehrlich willfully made false statements to obtain unemployment benefits. During the hearing, Huyck, on behalf of the Department, testified that when Ehrlich first began filing her weekly claims, she correctly reported her total wages. However, after those initial weeks, Ehrlich switched back and forth between correctly reporting her total wages and incorrectly reporting them.[1]

         When questioned about the discrepancies, Ehrlich stated that she did not fully understand what the question was asking. On several weeks, she "caught herself" reporting her hourly wage rather than gross earnings and corrected the error before completing the report. Ehrlich explained that on the weeks that she reported her earnings correctly, she was merely guessing correctly. For the weeks she reported them incorrectly, those were due to ...


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