Thursday, April 02, 2015

UC - voluntary quit v. discharge - capricious disregard


Wise v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – March 25, 2015

 


 

Claimant held to have quit her job when she failed to get proper certification for one possible position and did not respond to employer’s offer of another position within the time alloted.

 

Capricious disregard

The court rejected claimant’s allegation that the UCBR capriciously disregarded competent evidence regarding several issues.   A capricious disregard of evidence occurs where the fact finder willfully and deliberately disregards competent and relevant evidence that one of ordinary intelligence could not possibly have avoided in reaching a result. Spencer v. City of Reading Charter Board, 97 A.3d 834, 842 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has explained that review for capricious disregard of competent evidence is an “appropriate component of appellate consideration in every case in which such question is properly before the court.” Leon E. Wintermyer, Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Marlowe), 812 A.2d 478, 487 (Pa. 2002). In Wintermyer, the Supreme Court noted that where there is substantial evidence to support the agency’s factual findings and those findings support the legal conclusions, “it should remain a rare instance in which an appellate court would disturb an adjudication based upon capricious disregard.” Id. at 487 n.14. The standard announced in Wintermyer applies whether one or both parties present evidence and, thus, overruled this Court’s earlier-announced paradigm that appellate review for capricious disregard of evidence was limited to the circumstance where the burdened party was the only party to present evidence and did not prevail. See, e.g., Lautek Corporation v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 588 A.2d 1007, 1010 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1991).

 

Disturbing an agency’s adjudication for a capricious disregard of evidence is appropriate only where the factfinder has refused to resolve conflicts in the evidence, has not made essential credibility determinations or has completely ignored overwhelming evidence without comment. Hinkle v. City of Philadelphia, 881 A.2d 22, 27 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005). In Hinkle, this Court, citing Wintermyer, explained that:

“Capricious disregard” then is just another name for the agency abusing its discretion and is an error of law when the agency fails to give an indication that it has examined countervailing substantive testimony that had to be considered at arriving at its decision.

The capricious disregard standard then is nothing more than a shorthand way of referring to an amalgam of existing overlapping legal and constitutional standards mentioned above that safeguard against arbitrariness by state and local administrative agencies by requiring a meaningful explanation of why the losing party’s overwhelming evidence was not accepted.

Id. (footnote omitted). An appellate court conducting a review for capricious disregard of material, competent evidence may not reweigh the evidence or make credibility determinations. Spencer, 97 A.3d at 842 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014) (citing Wintermyer, 812 A.2d at 487-88).

 

Applying the above principles to the case, the court held that the Board did not capriciously disregard competent and relevant evidence. It did not ignore Claimant’s “overwhelming evidence” without comment. Rather, the Board discussed and explained its decision on all relevant issues.

 

Voluntary quit v. discharge

The court rejected claimant’s argument that she was fired and did not voluntarily quit her job.   Whether a claimant’s separation from employment constitutes a voluntary resignation is a question of law subject to this Court’s plenary review and will be determined from the totality of the facts surrounding the cessation of employment. Middletown Township v. UCBR, 40 A.3d 217, 224 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012). A voluntary termination requires a finding “that the claimant had a conscious intention to leave employment.” Procyson v. UCBR, 4 A.3d 1124, 1127 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012). A voluntary termination is not limited to a formal or even an express resignation; it can be inferred from the employee’s conduct. G.C. Murphy Co. v. UCBR, 471 A.2d 1295, 1297 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984). An employee who leaves her employment without informing her employer when or if she is planning to return may be held to have voluntarily quit. Iaconelli v. UCBR, 892 A.2d 894, 896 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006).

 

The court agreed with the Board that the evidence show that claimant exhibited a conscious intention to leave her employment by failing to respond to employer’s offer of a position within the time specified, noting that there was a need for a prompt decision by claimant, and that the employer tried to get in touch with claimant numerous time and that claimant failed to respond.

 

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