Tuesday, July 30, 2019

UC - jurisdiction of UCBR to consider merits when ER asks only for relief from charges

Martin v. UCBR – Cmwlth. Court – JULY 25, 2019 – unreported memorandum decision**

Held:   Employer letter requesting only relief from charges does not act as an appeal on the merits on the case, even where filed within the applicable appeal period.

This Court has repeatedly held that “the filing of an appeal from an eligibility determination is separate and distinct from the filing of a request for relief from charges.” See Ruffner v. UCBR, 172 A.3d 91 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2017) (quoting First Nat’l Bank of Bath v. UCBR, 619 A.2d 801 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992)); see also Myers v. UCBR (Pa. Cmwlth., Nos. 1856 & 1857 C.D. 2012, filed June 6, 2013), 2013 WL 3156565 (unreported).11 Stated otherwise, a request for relief from charges will not serve as an appeal from an eligibility determination. 

Here, the UC Service Center determined Claimant was not ineligible for UC benefits under Section 402(b) of the UC Law on the basis she had a necessitous and compelling reason to resign her employment. The notice of determination indicated that the final day to timely appeal that determination was March 12, 2018, and that the determination would become final absent the filing of an appeal by that date.
The record reveals that Employer initiated this matter by mailing a letter to the Employer Charge Unit within the 15-day appeal period, which explicitly stated, “[w]e respectfully request a relief of charges” and “this is not a request for an appeal; it is a request for a noncharge.” (bold and underline emphasis added).

Despite that express language, the Employer Charge Unit apparently assumed the letter was an appeal and transferred the letter to the UC Service Center, which then transferred the letter to the referee office, and a hearing ensued before the referee on eligibility. In reversing the UC Service Center’s determination and concluding that Claimant was ineligible for benefits under Section 402(b), the referee and the Board also treated Employer’s explicit request for relief from charges as an appeal from the UC Service Center’s eligibility determination. The referee and the Board erred in doing so because Employer was not appealing that determination.

In short, because Employer expressly did not appeal the UC Service Center’s determination finding Claimant not ineligible for benefits, that determination became final and binding on the parties and, consequently, deprived the referee and the Board of jurisdiction to issue the subsequent decisions reversing the UC Service Center’s determination and finding Claimant to be ineligible for benefits. See Section 501(e) of the UC Law, 43 P.S. §821(e); see also Section 302.1(e)(1) of the UC Law,12 43 P.S. §782.1(e)(1) (pertaining to relief from charges and providing that where a party’s eligibility is finally determined under Section 501(e), such determination shall not be subject to collateral attack in proceedings under Section 302.1). We therefore hold that the Board erred in concluding that Claimant was ineligible for benefits under Section 402(b) of the UC Law.

Editor’s note:  I suggest that someone move for publication of this opinion, which I think could be helpful and important in the frequent case (I think) where the UCBR reaches the merits of cases on ER request for relief from charges long after the time for appeal has passed.  What do others think?

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**An unreported Commonwealth Court case may not be cited binding precedent but can be cited for its persuasive value.  See 210 Pa. Code § 69.414(b) and Pa. R.A.P.  3716

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