Wednesday, January 18, 2017

UC - overpayment - fault v. non-fault - "honest mistake"

Fugh v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – January 18, 2017 – en banc

Firmly rejecting the UCBR’s suggestions to change the law, the court held that an overpayment came under the non-fault provisions of 43 P.S. 874(b) and not the fault provisions of 43 P.S. 874(a), where

            - “honest mistake” - the Board made a finding that Claimant made an “honest mistake” in filling out her UC application online.   She said that her unemployment was caused by lack of work after she quit due to a reduction of hours that would not have constituted good cause to quit her job.  Claimant “construed ‘lack of work’ to refer to a reduction in work available to her, which described her situation.”
            - no intentional failure to disclose information, no false statement – the Board also made specific findings to this effect

The en banc court rejected the UCBR’s suggestions that it should overrule the long-standinbg (40 years) precedent of Cruz v. UCBR, 531 A.2d 1178 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1987) and Daniels v. UCBR , 309 A.2d 738, 741 (Pa. Cmwlth.), holding that “fault” is a “term that ‘connotes an act to which blame, censure, impropriety, shortcoming, or culpability attaches.”  It involves a “blameworthy act” that shows the actor’s wrongful state of mind.   The court said that the “commission of a mere voluntary act does not establish fault. . . .The Board cannot hold a claimant liable for a fault overpayment for a mere mistake or confusion.” 

The court also noted the legislature’s silence and inactivity in the face of the holdings in Daniels and Cruz.

The court said that “our long held construction of ‘fault’ is not in need of ‘correction.’  It is as sound today as it was 40 years ago.  The revision to the Section 804 paradign proposed by the Board is one for the General Assembly to make.

Congratulations and thanks to Kevin Burke of NWLS and Julia Simon-Mishel of PLA for their work on this case.
If the case is old, the link may have become stale and may not work, but you can use the case name, court, and date to find the opinion in another source (e.g., Westlaw, Lexis, Google Scholar)