Friday, December 04, 2009

UC - appeal - lack of jurisdiction

Pa. Turnpike Commission v. UCBR - Cmwlth. Court - December 3, 2009
The court upheld a UCBR decision that a UC Service Center did not have jurisdiction to issue an amended financial determination, finding claimant ineligible under sec. 1002(11) (policy-making services excluded from "employment"), when it had previously issued a financial determination finding claimant eligible.
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Claimant was laid off from her job on November 20th, when her position was eliminated. She applied for UC shortly after that time.
On December 2nd, the UCSC issued a financial determination notice (First Notice) finding the claimant was financially eligible for UC. Claimant began receiving benefits. The Notice advised the employer that it had until December 17th to appeal. It did not do so.
On January 20, 2009, and "without any intervening activity of record," the UCSC issued a Second Notice of financial determination finding claimant not financially eligible, because her job involved making policy decision. Claimant filed a timely appeal.
At the ensuing referee, claimant testified that her duties did not involve making policy decisions. The employer witness testified that employer did not receive the First Notice but that it would have known about claimant's receipt of UC benefits shortly after payments began. Employer did not appeal from the First Notice.
The Board affirmed the referee decision that, because Employer did not appeal the First Notice, the UCSC lacked jurisdiction to issue the Second Notice, where it was outside of the appeal period, citing 43 P.S. 821(3), which says that a party must appeal a determination within 15 days.
The court held that the Service Center did not have jurisdiction to issue the Second Notice.

Section 501(e) of the Law, 43 P.S. §821(3), provides. . .that a party must appeal a determination within 15 calendar days after such notice was delivered to that party personally or was mailed to his or her address. The Service Center may issue a revised notice of determination within the appeal period if no appeal has been filed. Garza v. UCBR, 669 A.2d 445 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1995). However, the Service Center may not issue a revised notice of determination after the appeal period has expired; the determination becomes final and the Board loses jurisdiction to consider the matter. Vereb v. UCBR, 676 A.2d 1290 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1996). It is well-settled the statutory time limit for filing an appeal is mandatory in the absence of fraud or a breakdown in the administrative agency. First Nat’l Bank of Bath v. UCBR, 619 A.2d 801 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1993).

Here, the certified record lacks any indication Employer attempted to appeal the First Notice, and HR Director admitted as much. Absent an appeal, the First Notice became final and binding on the parties and, concomitantly, deprived the Service Center of jurisdiction to issue the Second Notice. Vereb; First Nat’l Bank. Thus, we discern no error in the Board’s order vacating the Second Notice. (emphasis added)

The court also rejected the Employer argument that it had submitted documents that showed an intent to appeal. First, the court noted that the documents were not part of the certified record. More important, however, the court held that even

assuming the forms evidenced Employer’s intent to challenge the Service Center’s eligibility determination, they do not negate Employer’s obligation to file an appeal of the First Notice. In First National Bank of Bath, [619 A.2d 801 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1993)], [t]his Court rejected the employer’s assertions the form [requesting relief from charges] manifested its intent to appeal. We explained that “[t]he language of [S]ection 501(e) … is both clear and mandatory. Employers have fifteen (15) days to file an appeal from a determination … or that determination ‘shall be final and compensation shall be paid or denied in accordance therewith.’ Because appeal provisions of the [Law] are mandatory, appellants carry a heavy burden to justify untimely appeals, and absent proof of fraud, cannot prevail.” 619 A.2d at 803. (First emphasis added).

Applying the above principle here, none of Employer’s forms can substitute for an appeal unless they specifically advise the Board that Employer appealed. See 34 Pa. Code §101.82(c)(1) (use of the prescribed form is not mandatory to initiate an appeal; any written notice specifically advising that the interested party is filing an appeal or requesting review of a decision is sufficient). Once again, the lack of the forms in the record prevents review to determine whether Employer specifically advised the Board it was appealing the First Notice.