Article: Legally Insufficient Notice and UIA Determinations

Legally Insufficient Notice and Unemployment Insurance Agency Determinations
By: Leila McClure, Marina Hunt, and Steve Gray
University of Michigan Law School Unemployment Insurance Clinic
April 2016

Sections: 421.32a, 421.33

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Frequently, unemployment insurance claimants and employers must rely only on short letter determinations and redeterminations (notices) they receive from the Agency that provide little or no information about why the Agency has taken the action of which it is notifying the party. This confuses most parties and can often prevent them from adequately responding to a negative action taken against them by the Agency. The sparse or confusing notices prevent them from either making, effective protest and appeal decisions, or unable to prepare for hearings. The following article discusses the circumstances in which Agency  notices are legally insufficient and what effect that should have on administrative proceedings.

Agency Required to Comply with US Department of Labor Standards
In the administration of its duties enumerated in the Michigan Employment Security Act, the State of Michigan must “cooperate with the appropriate agency of the United States under the Social Security Act.” M.C.L. 421.11(a). Per this requirement, the Unemployment Insurance agency is statutorily required to comply with relevant regulations promulgated by the Department of Labor.

Relevant Department of Labor Notice Standard
Section 6013 of Appendix A to Part 602 of the Employment Security Manual requires the State of Michigan to include “in written notices of determination furnished to claimants sufficient information to enable them to understand the determinations, the reasons therefor, and their rights to protest, request reconsideration, or appeal.” 20 CFR § 602 App. A, 6013(C)(2)

With regards to disqualification from benefits, the Department of Labor provides that: “If a disqualification is imposed, or if the claimant is declared ineligible for one or more weeks, he must be given not only a statement of the period of disqualification or ineligibility and the amount of wage-credit reductions, if any, but also an explanation of the reason for the ineligibility or disqualification. This explanation must be sufficiently detailed so that he will understand why he is ineligible or why he has been disqualified, and what he must do in order to requalify for benefits or purge the disqualification. The statement must be individualized to indicate the facts upon which the determination was based, e.g., state, “It is found that you left your work with Blank Company because you were tired of working; the separation was voluntary, and the reason does not constitute good cause,” rather than merely the phrase “voluntary quit.” Checking a box as to the reason for the disqualification is not a sufficiently detailed explanation. However, this statement of the reason for the disqualification need not be a restatement of all facts considered in arriving at the determination.” 20 CFR § 602 App. A, 6013(C)(2)(h) (2012) (Emphasis Added).

In the Department of Labor Advisory, Unemployment Insurance Program Letter, No. 01-16 concerning “Federal Requirements to Protect Individual Rights in State Unemployment Compensation Overpayment Prevention and Recovery Procedures, the Department of Labor specifically instructed on what qualifies as sufficient notice for fraud determinations. To satisfy federal law, the individual accused of fraud must “be provided with a written determination which provides sufficient information to understand the basis for the determination and how/when an appeal must be filed and must also include the facts on which the determination is based, the reason for allowing or denying benefits, the legal basis for the determination, and potential penalties or consequences.” USDOL Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 1-16, page 2 (emphasis added). The Letter also provides a description of the information that must be included in a written determination:

  1. A summary statement of the material facts on which the determination is based;
  2. The reason for allowing or denying benefits; and
  3. The conclusion of the decision based on the state’s law

Relevant Michigan Law
In Snyder v. RAM Broadcasting, No. 82 23718 AE, Washtenaw Circuit Court (April 26, 1983) (Digest No. 16.39), the Circuit Court held that a “Notice of Hearing which [does] not give a plain statement that claimant’s eligibility pursuant to Section 28(1)(a)… might be raised was not an adequate notice of the issue when it merely used the words ‘Ability/Availability/Seeking Work/Eligibility.’” The reasoning the court used in deciding this notice was inadequate was that it was “not a plain statement of the matters asserted,” meaning that “words and phrases divided by slashes and followed by a string citation to given sections of the Act do not provide a reasonably understandable notification that an issue will be considered, especially where the notification is intended for a lay person.”

Recently in Proulx v. Horiba Subsidiary Inc., 14-006880-241108 (Oct. 2, 2014) (Digest No. 18.21), an unpublished decision by the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (MCAC), the body held in part that the agency’s fraud redetermination was insufficient because “it merely provide[d] a conclusory statement with no fact-finding to support it.”

Agency Practice
The Unemployment Agency’s practice of sending conclusory statements of disqualification or findings of misrepresentation violates both the mandatory Department of Labor standards and existing Michigan law. Examples of insufficient notice under the Department of Labor standard include:

  • “Your actions indicate you intentionally misled and/or concealed information to obtain benefits you were not entitled to receive”
  • “You quit your job with COMPANY on DATE due to other personal reasons”
  • Redeterminations including only the underlying issue and relevant statute number, such as: “Ability 28(1)(c)”

Good Cause to Re-Open
Pursuant to UIA Rule 270(1)(e), ““fail[ure] to receive a reasonable and timely notice” is good cause for reconsideration and reopening. Section 32(a) of the MESA provides that “the claimant and other interested parties shall be promptly notified of the determination and the reasons for the determination.” Based on the failure to comply with Department of Labor standards and existing Michigan law, any agency determination or redetermination is void if it does not include:

  • An explanation of the reason for the ineligibility or disqualification that is sufficiently detailed so that the claimant knows why he or she is ineligible
  • Information about what the claimant must do to appeal or requalify for benefits
  • Individualized facts to indicate how the decision was reached

Effect of Insufficient Notice

Void ab initio
Insufficient notice of an agency decision makes that decision null and can be treated as void ab initio. The Michigan Court of Appeals has held that a failure to give proper notice as required by the applicable statute “is a jurisdictional defect that renders the subsequent proceedings void.” Kanouse v Montcalm County Drain Comm’r, unpublished opinion per curium of the Court of Appeals, issued March 19, 2002 (Docket No. 236285), p 2. Likewise, the Court of Appeals held in a workers’ compensation case that improper notice renders a subsequent judgment potentially voidable. Abbott v Howard, 182 Mich App 243 (1990).

Procedural Due Process
The notion that insufficient notice renders a subsequent decision void also comes from a two-step analysis:

(1) Inadequate notice is a violation of procedural due process rights, and

(2) Decisions that relied on a lack of due process cannot be sustained.

Under step (1), it is clear from U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence that proper notice is fundamental to due process. See, e.g., Mullane v Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 US 306 (1950). In a case specifically about the rights of welfare recipients, the U.S. Supreme Court said that due process requires “timely and adequate notice detailing the reasons for” an agency decision, and“[t]hese rights are important in cases such as those before us, where recipients have challenged proposed terminations.” Goldberg v Kelly, 397 US 254 (1970). See also Cosby v Ward, 843 F2d 967 (CA 7, 1988) (failure to provide adequate written notice of issues to be raised at unemployment compensation hearing violated fair hearing requirement).

Under step (2), courts have voided judgments that were founded on violations of procedural due process. Often these cases fall under procedural rules such as FRCP 60(b)(4) and MRCP 2.612(c)(1)(d), which allow courts to provide relief from judgments that are void. Courts have interpreted those rules as applying to judgments that arose from inadequate process. See, e.g., In re Ruehle, 307 BR 28 (Bankr CA 6, 2004) (upholding a lower court’s decision to vacate an order where one party was denied due process of law).

Lack of Jurisdiction

An ALJ’s Authority
Where there is an occurrence of insufficient notice or a void determination, an Administrative Law Judge has the authority to dismiss or adjourn a hearing based on lack of jurisdiction over the matter. An ALJ’s authority to return jurisdiction can be inferred from both the Michigan Employment Security Act and the MAHS hearing rules issued by LARA. Section 33 of the Act authorizes MAHS to accept cases on appeal and then give them to Administrative Law Judges so long as they deal with redeterminations issued by the agency in accordance with Section 32a. MESA 421.33(1). Section 32a(1) details the agency’s decision-making process, by which a determination or redetermination is issued at each step, followed by “a hearing on the redetermination before an administrative law judge.” MESA 421.32a(1). According to these rules, the ability to have a hearing with an ALJ is contingent upon the existence of an agency decision. Without a valid determination or redetermination, the judge does not have jurisdiction over the case under MESA.

Also, it is standard practice for an ALJ to return a matter to the Agency when they can’t find an Agency determination to support it. ALJs commonly return matters to the Agency when no determination can be found in their system or in the hearing file.  Legally insufficient notice is akin to that situation.

The administrative hearing rules, issued by LARA for MAHS, support the principle that the ALJ has broad discretion in deciding how to handle a case, including issues that arise before or after hearings and questions of jurisdiction. For example, Rule 106 contains a lengthy list of powers that the ALJ has, including the power to, “on an administrative law judge’s own initiative, adjourn hearings.” Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Michigan Administrative Hearing System Administrative Hearing Rules (eff. January 15, 2015), R 792.10106(1)(o). In addition, Rule 110 allows the ALJ to decline to consider a document that was not properly served on all parties, which is another form of inadequate notice. Id. R 792.10110(8).

Application to Good Cause
The fact that a claimant or employer received insufficient notice in the determinations provides her with good cause for filing a late appeal. The Agency’s administrative code provides that ‘good cause’ for reconsideration under MCL 421.32a includes among other things failure “to receive a reasonable and timely notice, order, or decision.” Mich Admin Code R 421.270(1)(e). Where a determination is legally insufficient on its face, it does not provide reasonable notice as required by 270(1)(e). On that basis, there is good cause for reopening, rehearing, or late appeals.

Appropriate Remedies
There are two possible appropriate remedies when the UIA has provided notice that does not meet the Department of Labor standards. First, a notice could be deemed unreasonable on its face. With a finding of unreasonable notice, the notice can be voided and jurisdiction should return to the Agency to issue a notice that complies with the above-mentioned standards. Alternatively, the unreasonable notice could form the basis for good cause for reopening or late appeal. Under a finding for good cause for reopening or late appeal, a case would then proceed on the underlying merits of the unemployment claim.

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About the Authors

– Leila McClure, University of Michigan Law School, Class of 2016

– Marina Hunt, University of Michigan Law School Class of 2017

– Steve Gray, Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the University of Michigan Law School Unemployment Insurance Clinic

Proulx v. Horiba Subsidiary, Inc. – 18.21

Proulx v. Horiba Subsidiary, Inc.
Digest No. 18.21

Sections 421.27, 421.33(1), 421.54(b), and 421.62(a)

Cite as: Proulx v Horiba Subsidiary, Inc, unpublished opinion of the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission, issued October 1, 2014 (Docket No. 14-00680-241108).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Brian D. Proulx
Employer: Horiba Subsidiary, Inc.
Docket no.: 14-00680-241108
Date of decision: October 1, 2014

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HOLDING: Redetermination by the UIA requires fact finding in support of the agency’s decision. When the Agency merely makes a conclusory statement in support of its ruling, such a decision is procedurally deficient and will not be upheld on appeal. Secondly, when a claimant fails to appear at an appeal by the Agency, the ALJ has jurisdiction both to dismiss the proceedings and to “take other action considered advisable”. Thus, the ALJ has “broad discretion to address the matter.” Finally, the notice for the hearing, delivered to the claimant, was required to include ”the issues and penalties involved”. (This requirement has been altered by Michigan Administrative Code (MAC) Rule 792.11407. This rule requires a “short and plain statement of the issues involved”, while related rules require a 20 notice, compared to the usual 7, and a witness list and copy of all documentary evidence related to fraud.)

FACTS: After being discharged by Horiba Subsidiary, Claimant applied for and received benefits under Section 27. A rehearing, on March 28, 2014, by the Unemployment Insurance Agency accused Claimant of fraud or misrepresentation, found him ineligible for Section 27 benefits, and subject to restitution under Section 62(a). A separate rehearing on the same day assessed penalties under Section 54(b). Claimant then failed to appear at an ALJ hearing of this matter on July 10, 2014. The notice of this hearing provided to Claimant read “SECTION 27(c) & 48 – WHETHER OR NOT CLAIMANT IS ELIGIBLE FOR BENEFITS UNDER THE REMUNERATION, EARNINGS OFFSET PROVISION. CLAIMANT MUST PAY RESTITUTION/DAMAGES TO AGENCY UNDER SECTION 54(b)-INTENTIONAL MISREPRESENTATION. SECTIONS THAT MAY APPLY ARE: 62(a), 62(b), 20(a).” This notice did not include the penalties involved as required by the Michigan Administrative Code (MAC) Rule 421.1110(1). (Note that this rule has since been superseded and altered by Rule 792.11407.)

Because of Claimant’s failure to appear, the ALJ dismissed Claimant’s appeal of the Section 27, and Section 62(a) rehearings, but remanded the Section 54(b) rehearing to the Agency because their accusations in that rehearing were merely conclusory and didn’t provide supporting fact-finding. The Unemployment Insurance Agency appealed this remand decision to the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission, and the Commission reviewed both of the orders of the ALJ.

DECISION: The ALJ’s dismissal of Claimant’s appeal is set aside and remanded for a full hearing. The ALJ’s remand of the Agency’s 54(b) ruling is affirmed.

RATIONALE: An ALJ does not lack jurisdiction over an appealed UIA hearing simply because the appellant failed to appear at the appeal. Section 33(1) provides that “If the appellant fails to appear or prosecute the appeal, the administrative law judge may dismiss the proceedings or take other action considered advisable.” Since the ALJ may “take other action considered advisable”, a dismissal based on the appellant’s failure to appear is an error of law. A second reason for setting aside the ALJ’s dismissal of the appeal is the insufficiency of the notice provided to Claimant. Michigan Administrative Code (MAC) Rule 431.1110(1) required the notice to include a description of the penalties involved. Since the notice form provided to Claimant lacked this information, it was not sufficient and his failure to appear can’t be held against him.

Secondly, and Agency determination of fraud or misrepresentation on the part of a claimant can’t be sustained without fact-finding on the record to back up that determination. Merely supplying conclusory statements as to Claimant’s alleged fraud does not meet this burden. Therefore, when the Agency fails to provide appropriate factual backing for its findings, it must reconsider its determination.

Digest author: James Fahringer, Michigan Law, Class of 2018
Digest updated: 3/30/2016

 

Barbee v. J.C. Penney – 16.73

Barbee v. J.C. Penney
Digest No. 16.73

Section 421.29(b), 421.33, 421.34, 421.38

Cite as: Barbee v JC Penney Corp, Inc, Unpublished Opinion of the Circuit Court for the County of Oakland, Issued January 26, 2006 (Docket No. 177083W).

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Appeal Pending: No
Claimant: Della M. Barbee
Employer: J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc.
Tribunal: Circuit Court for the County of Oakland
Date of Decision: January 26, 2006

HOLDING: The State of Michigan Employment Security Board of Review’s (“Board”) lacks jurisdiction to review untimely appeals.

FACTS: Claimant was employed by J.C. Penney as a Customer Service Associate until she was discharged for misconduct. Her alleged misconduct included obtaining fraudulent refunds, discount abuse, and unauthorized price adjustments. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) disqualified the claimant from benefits due to her misconduct under MCL 421.29(b).

Claimant appealed the ALJ’s decision to the State of Michigan Employment Security Board of Review (“Board”). The deadline to appeal was September 24, 2004, but claimant did not file her appeal until October 6, 2004. Pursuant to MCL 421.33, the Board dismissed the late appeal due to lack of jurisdiction.

Claimant did not seek rehearing or to reopen the case with the Board for good cause but instead, appealed to the Circuit Court (“Court”) for de novo review of the Board’s (1) arbitrary Appeal deadline and (2) the underlying determination in finding the Plaintiff guilty of misconduct.

DECISION: The Board’s deadlines cannot be challenged as arbitrary because they were set by the legislature and codified as MCL 421.33(2) and MCL 421.34. Additionally, the Circuit Court cannot de novo review claimant’s underlying determination because she appealed the Board’s decision. Finally, the Board’s order dismissing claimant’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction was proper.

RATIONALE: The Circuit Court ruled that the appeal deadlines were not arbitrary because they were established by the legislature through MCL 421.33(2) and MCL 421.34.

The Court also denied claimant’s appeal for de novo review of her underlying determination as guilty of misconduct. The Court noted that a claimant can appeal a referee’s (ALJ’s) decision to the Circuit Court directly under MCL 421.38(2). However, because the claimant appealed the Board’s decision and said decision did not include a review of claimant’s determination as guilty of misconduct, the Circuit Court lacks authority to de novo review the claimant’s guilty determination.

The Circuit Court reviewed the whole record to determine if claimant’s appeal was untimely. Pursuant to MCL 421.38(1), the standard for finding an appeal untimely is support by competent, material, and substantial evidence. After finding that the appeal was untimely under the standard, the Court affirmed the Board’s decision dismissing claimant’s untimely appeal for lack of jurisdiction under MCL 421.33.

Digest Author: Sean Higgins, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest Updated: 3/27/2016

Ashford v Unemployment Comp. Commission – 7.24

Ashford v Unemployment Comp. Commission
Digest no. 7.24

Sections 28(1)(c), 33

Cite as: Ashford v Unemployment Compensation Commission, 328 Mich 428 (1950).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Violet Ashford
Employer: Kelsey Hayes
Date of decision: Sept. 11, 1950

View/download the full decision

SUPREME COURT HOLDING: The introduction into evidence of the file materials for a claim for unemployment benefits does not, by itself, operate to prove the claim. The burden of proof is on the party asserting the affirmative of the issue involved.

FACTS: Claimant filed for unemployment benefits and the Commission determined she was entitled. The employer appealed to the Referee. The claimant appeared in person, the employer by counsel. Claimant’s file materials were made part of the record over employer’s objections. Employer requested the claimant be questioned as to her eligibility. “[T]he Referee held that, because claimant was not represented by counsel, she might not be permitted to testify unless the employer called her for cross examination under the statute and agreed that her testimony should become the employer’s testimony, binding upon the latter.”

Employer contended claimant had the burden to establish her claim, even if the employer did not offer any evidence in opposition. The Referee held a prima facie case was established by entering claimant’s file into the record, and that the employer, by failing to offer evidence in opposition, had failed to prosecute its appeal, which was dismissed.

DECISION: Dismissal for lack of prosecution was error. Remanded for hearing on the merits.

RATIONALE: “The statute does not provide … a rule that in cases of employer appeals to referee the employer shall be held to have failed to prosecute its appeal unless it assumes the burden of the evidence and proceeds at the very outset to offer proofs in opposition to … the claimant…. [T]he employer was present by counsel who stated its position on the law, … and objected to the referee’s ruling that plaintiff might testify only as employer’s witness. In so doing, the employer did prosecute its appeal.”

“Introduction of that claim … into evidence did not operate to establish it. The claim does not prove itself…. [T]he obligation of the claimants is to establish the truth of their claims by a preponderance of the evidence.”

Digest Author: Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated: 6/91