Wednesday, July 13, 2005

admin. law - appeal - statement of reasons for credibility determinations

Our state courts have said that although agencies have to cite reasons for their decisions, 2 Pa. CS  sec.  507, that requirement is fulfilled in UC cases where credibility is at issue if the Board of Review simply says it believed one side or the other.   See Peak v., UCBR, 501 A2d 1383 (Pa. 1985), where it said that "the Board's reason for reversing the referee is plain enough. Unlike the referee, it chose to believe the employer, not the employee. It disagreed with the referee's factual resolution of conflicting evidence, a power it has under Section 504 of the statute ," 43 PS sec. 824.    Peak, 501 A2d at 1387.    

In a  fairly recent worker's comp. (WC) case, the Commonwealth Court  reached a different decision.  It held that a credibility determination was not adequate  where the fact-finder failed to "issue a reasoned decision" and to "articulate some objective basis for [its] credibility determinations."  Higgins v. WCAB, 854 A2d 1002, 1007 (Pa. Cmwlth 2004).  Instead, the WCAB "simply noted that….[the WC judge] is the ultimate arbiter of witness credibility" and had made a finding.  854 A2d at 1005.   Accord,  Daniels v. WCAB, 828 A2d 1043 (Pa. 2003)

It is true that in UC cases the UCBR is the ultimate finder of fact, while in worker's comp it is generally the referee/judge.  However, that difference should not result in different requirements for the quality of decisions in these two areas.  In both worker's compensation cases (2 Pa CS 507 and 77 PS 834 ) and UC  cases (2 Pa CS 507 ), statutes require a statement of findings and reasons.  

How that requirement is satisfied should be the same in both instances.   The reason for a credibility determination cannot simply be that the fact-finder believed one party or the other.  The fact-finder should have to "articulate some objective basis" for its decision, whether the fact-finder is the UCBR or a WC judge. 

I think that Higgins and Daniels can be used to make that argument in the appropriate UC case. 

Donald Marritz,  staff attorney
MidPenn Legal Services