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Pajor v. Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

June 27, 2017


          Argued March 8, 2017

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New Britain, Young, J.

          Mariusz Kurzyna, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Richard T. Sponzo, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were George Jepsen, attorney general, and Philip M. Schulz, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (named defendant).

          Alvord, Sheldon and Norcott, Js.


          NORCOTT, J.

         The plaintiff, John Pajor, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dismissing his appeal from the decision of the Employment Security Appeals Division Board of Review (board), which dismissed his appeal from the dismissal of his challenge to a finding that he had been overpaid certain unemployment compensation benefits. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court improperly (1) applied the wrong standard of review to the board's decision on his motion to correct findings, and (2) concluded that the board's determination that the plaintiff did not show good cause for failing to attend a hearing on remand before an appeals referee was not arbitrary, unreasonable, or an abuse of discretion. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The record reflects the following facts and procedural history. The plaintiff worked full-time for Wal-Mart Associates, Inc. (Wal-Mart) from September 18, 1999, to April 28, 2012, earning $12.30 per hour. He subsequently was discharged on April 29, 2012, after which time he filed a claim for partial unemployment compensation benefits. While he was employed at Wal-Mart, the plaintiff also worked full-time at EBM Papst, Inc. (EBM). On August 31, 2012, an appeals referee (referee) approved the plaintiff's claim for partial benefits on the basis of on his discharge from Wal-Mart. The plaintiff, however, subsequently left his job at EBM on September 14, 2012, [1] having accepted an offer for a position at Corbin Russwin.

         The plaintiff states, in his brief, that he discontinued his claim for benefits against Wal-Mart after accepting the offer for employment at Corbin Russwin. The record, however, fails to reflect such discontinuation. From our careful review of the record, it appears that the plaintiff failed to notify the defendant Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act (administrator), [2]about his voluntary separation from EBM. Instead, the record reflects that, as part of a routine audit of the plaintiff's benefits account, the administrator, by way of a letter dated September 11, 2012, requested that EBM indicate, in a certificate of earnings, the gross earnings of the plaintiff for the weeks for which the plaintiff received partial benefits. EBM subsequently sent this information, as well as a letter from the plaintiff to EBM indicating his desire to terminate his employment with EBM. It appears that the administrator, upon learning of the plaintiff's voluntary separation from EBM, initiated the investigation into whether the plaintiff had fraudulently received partial benefit payments because of his failure to disclose his full-time employment at EBM during the period of time in which he was receiving partial unemployment compensation benefits.

         The plaintiff states that he did, in fact, disclose that he was working full-time at EBM in his initial claim for partial unemployment compensation benefits, and that this prior disclosure is the reason why he responded ‘‘no'' to the following weekly claims question: ‘‘Did you work full time or part-time for an employer or in self-employment or return to full-time work during the week ending last Saturday, which you have not already reported?'' The record, however, does not contain the plaintiff's initial claim for benefits, or any disclosure to the administrator that he was concurrently working full-time at EBM during the period in which he was receiving benefits. Thus we cannot discern whether the plaintiff did, in fact, make such a disclosure. Additionally, the record contains a sheet entitled ‘‘Fact Finding Report Claimant Statement, '' which contains a statement from the plaintiff that he ‘‘did not report the earnings because [he] had been laid off from Wal-Mart and [that he had] reported that to the Department of Labor.''

         The plaintiff further states that the administrator informed him that he was ‘‘eligible for benefits by virtue of losing his full-time position with Wal-Mart even while he continued in his other full-time position at EBM.'' The record reflects, however, that the administrator, in an overpayment and administrative penalty decision dated November 9, 2012, stated that the plaintiff received fraudulent benefit payments because he failed to disclose his earnings from EBM during the benefits period.

         In its November 9, 2012 decision, the administrator determined that, effective September 9, 2012, the plaintiff was no longer eligible for benefits stemming from his discharge from Wal-Mart because of his voluntary separation from EBM. The administrator also determined that the plaintiff was not entitled to the benefits he had received while employed full-time at EBM and that, as a result, the plaintiff had fraudulently received an overpayment of $4599 due to unreported earnings from EBM from the weeks ending July 21, 2012 to September 15, 2012. The plaintiff appealed that decision to a referee pursuant to General Statutes § 31-237j.[3]

         The referee heard that appeal on December 26, 2012, and issued his decision on December 31, 2012. In that decision, the referee dismissed the appeal due to the plaintiff's failure to file the appeal within the statutorily prescribed period.[4] Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a motion to open the referee's decision on January 21, 2013, which the referee denied on January 25, 2013. The plaintiff filed an appeal to the board, challenging both the December 31, 2012 decision and the referee's January 25, 2013 decision. The board reversed both decisions, concluding that the plaintiff had shown good cause for filing an untimely appeal because he did not ‘‘receive . . . [the notice] advisements in his native language.'' Furthermore, it determined that the plaintiff was genuinely confused by the administrator's decision that he was disqualified from receiving benefits from Wal-Mart, based on his separation from EBM, and that such confusion served as an additional basis for good cause to excuse the late filing of the appeal. The board remanded the case to the referee to conduct further proceedings on the merits of his appeal.

         A hearing on remand before the referee was scheduled for July 9, 2013. The plaintiff failed to appear. The appeals referee subsequently issued a decision on July 10, 2013, dismissing the appeal for failure to attend the hearing. On July 29, 2013, the plaintiff filed a motion to open the referee's decision on the basis that he had failed to attend the hearing because he thought that his attorney would ‘‘take care of it, '' therefore obviating his need to attend the hearing in person.[5] The referee denied the plaintiff's motion on August 8, 2013, on the ground that the plaintiff could not show good cause to open the decision. Specifically, the referee concluded that the plaintiff's claim that he failed to understand the necessity of attending the hearing in ...

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