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Reel v. Administrator Unemployment Compensation

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Tolland, Rockville

August 11, 2015

Lawrence Reel
v.
Administrator Unemployment Compensation et al

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

Susan Quinn Cobb, J.

This is an unemployment compensation appeal initiated by the petitioner, Lawrence Reel, who appeals from the decision of the Employment Security Appeals Division Board of Review (Board) affirming the Referee's determination that the petitioner was ineligible to receive unemployment benefits. For the reasons stated below, the court affirms the decision of the Board and dismisses the petitioner's appeal.

FACTS

The following facts found by the Board and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The petitioner was employed as a full-time automotive mechanic at Rick's II Auto Repairs, LLC, from March 2011 until his termination on September 10, 2014. On September 30, 2014, the Administrator of the Unemployment Compensation Act found that the petitioner was eligible for unemployment benefits after a hearing that was not attended by the employer. In particular, the Administrator found that the petitioner had been discharged due to his job performance but had not received any notice that his work needed to improve or that his job was in jeopardy. Upon finding eligibility, the Administrator sent notice to the employer, Rick's II Auto Repair LLC, of its liability in connection with the petitioner's benefits claim. The employer appealed the decision of the Administrator to the Appeals Referee on October 14, 2014.

After a hearing on November 10, 2014, which was attended by both the employer and the petitioner, the Referee reversed the Administrator's decision. At the hearing, the employer testified that the reason the petitioner was terminated was because he had arrived at work intoxicated and exhibited signs of intoxication while on duty.[1] After his attempts to call a taxi for the petitioner were unsuccessful, the employer called the police to prevent the petitioner from driving home while intoxicated. Subsequently, the petitioner failed a field sobriety test and was arrested by the police and taken to the hospital.

The petitioner disputed his former employer's account by arguing that the symptoms he exhibited were caused by an undiagnosed medical condition. He did not, however, present any medical documentation or other evidence to support this assertion. During the hearing, the Referee repeatedly asked the petitioner if he was an alcoholic or otherwise receiving treatment for a substance abuse problem. These questions were all answered in the negative. On this basis, the Referee determined that the petitioner had been terminated for willful misconduct because he was intoxicated at work and was, therefore, ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The petitioner appealed the Referee's decision to the Board of Review, which affirmed it on December 30, 2014. After reviewing the record, the Board determined the Referee had adequately addressed the petitioner's medical claims and applied the appropriate evidentiary standards to the parties' claims. It also found that the Referee correctly followed previous decisions by the Board requiring medical documentation of a nexus between a claimant's conduct and a medical condition to determine whether the misconduct that led to termination can be excused. In this case, no medical evidence was presented.[2] The Board additionally determined that the Referee had correctly applied a preponderance of the evidence standard to the employer's claim that the petitioner was intoxicated. On this basis, the Board adopted the Referee's findings of fact and decision, and dismissed the appeal.

The petitioner appealed the Board's decision to this court on February 17, 2015. The petitioner did not file a motion to correct the record prior to bringing this appeal. On March 30, 2015, the Administrator of Unemployment Compensation filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that the Board's decision is reasonable and not arbitrary or illegal because the record supports its conclusion. The petitioner did not respond to this motion.

DISCUSSION

" A trial court's review of the findings of the board is circumscribed. To the extent that an administrative appeal, pursuant to General Statutes § 31-249b, concerns findings of fact, a court is limited to a review of the record certified and filed by the board of review. The court must not retry the facts nor hear evidence . . . [The court] cannot review the conclusions of the board when these depend upon the weight of the evidence and the credibility of witnesses." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Lantieri v. Administrator, Unemployment Commission, 136 Conn.App. 174, 182, 43 A.3d 815 (2012). If a claimant wishes to challenge the factual findings of the Board, he or she must file a motion to correct the findings within two weeks of the record being filed with the Superior Court. See Belica v. Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act, 126 Conn.App. 779, 786, 12 A.3d 1067 (2011); Practice Book § 22-4. In the absence of such a motion, the findings of the board are binding on the court; Belica v. Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act, supra, 126 Conn.App. 786-87; and review is limited to " whether the administrative action resulted from an incorrect application of the law to the facts found or could not reasonably or logically have followed from such facts." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Manukyan v. Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act, 139 Conn.App. 26, 34, 54 A.3d 602 (2012). This inquiry is a review of the administrative action to determine whether it was unreasonable, arbitrary, and illegal or an abuse of discretion. Id.

In the present appeal, the petitioner did not file a motion to correct the findings of the Board. Therefore, this review is limited to the Board's application of the law concerning terminations for willful misconduct to the factual findings made in the lower proceedings.

General Statutes § 31-236(a)(2)(B) provides that an individual is ineligible for benefits if he is discharged for " willful misconduct" on the job. " Willful misconduct" is defined, in relevant part, as " deliberate misconduct in willful disregard of the employer's interest." General Statutes § 31-236(a)(16). " Misconduct must be an act of wanton or willful disregard of the employer's interest or negligence in such degree or recurrence as to . . . show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interest or of the employee's duties and obligations to the employer." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Lazarcheck v. Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act, 1 Conn.App. 591, 594-95, 474 A.2d 465 (1984).

Establishing that a termination was for willful misconduct requires a finding that " the individual's act or omission constituted misconduct and that such misconduct was done deliberately and in willful disregard of the employer's interests." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Tosado v. Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act, 130 Conn.App. 266, 276-77, 22 A.3d 675 (2011). This finding has two distinct parts--the " misconduct" consideration and the " willful disregard" consideration--and is examined using several sub-questions. Id., 276-77.

" To find that any act or omission is misconduct, the [Board] must find that the individual committed an act or made an omission which was contrary to the employer's interest, including any act or omission which is not consistent with the standards of behavior which an employer, in the operation of his business, should reasonably be able to expect from an employee." Id., 276. The " willful disregard" inquiry requires the board to find that " the individual committed the act or made the omission intentionally or with reckless indifference for the probable consequences of such act or omission." Id. " Finally, [t]o find that deliberate misconduct is in willful disregard of the employer's interest, the [board] must find that: (1) the individual knew or should have known that such act or omission was contrary to the employer's expectation or interest; and (2) at the time the individual committed the act ...


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