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

Bechill v. Benzie County Government Center – 10.98

Bechill v. Benzie County Government Center
Digest No. 10.98

Section 421.29(1)(a)

Cite as: Bechill v Benzie Co. Gov’t Ctr, Benzie Circuit Court, No. B 2007-21980-RM2-201487W (August 21, 2009).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Richard J. Bechill
Employer: Benzie County Government Center
Docket no.: 201487wh
Date of decision: August 21, 2009

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HOLDING: When a claimant voluntarily terminates his or her employment, a significant reduction in wages (via a reduction in work hours) constitutes good cause attributable to the employer as a matter of public policy.

FACTS: Claimant was a dispatcher at the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office. For the first five months of his employment, Claimant was working an average of 40 hours per week. Over the summer, as a result of a myriad of factors, Claimant voluntarily worked an average of 18.25 hours per week. When Claimant saw that he was only scheduled for 3 days of work (16-20 hours) for the entirety of the next month (which he has not requested), Claimant voluntarily terminated his employment.

Claimant applied for unemployment benefits but was denied. He subsequently appealed this decision and the Board of Review upheld the denial of benefits due to the fact that (1) Claimant could not show proof that he was guaranteed a certain number of hours per week and (2) Claimant failed to show that a reasonable person would have quit instead of filing a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement that governed Claimant’s employment. Claimant then submitted a request a rehearing which was denied.

DECISION: The Board of Review decision is reversed and Claimant is entitled to unemployment benefits.

RATIONALE: As a matter of public policy, a non-voluntary, significant reduction in wages constitutes good cause attributable to the employer. If the court did not allow this to constitute good cause, this could allow employers to reduce wages near benefit level instead of releasing an employee. This would compel the employee’s resignation while simultaneously making them ineligible for benefits. Robertson v. Brown, 139 So. 2d 226, 229, 100 ALR 2d 1052 (La. Ct. App. 1962). This could make reducing hours a weapon of control for employers to make employees comply with their demands. Bunny’s Waffle Shop, Inc. v. Cal. Emp’t Comm’n, 151 P.2d 224, 227-28, 24 Cal. 2d 735, 741-43 (1944).

Digest Author: Cydney Warburton, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest Updated: 1/6/2016

Riccardi v Oakland General Health Systems – 12.154

Riccardi v Oakland General Health Systems
Digest no. 12.154

Section 29(1)(b)

Cite as: Riccardi v Oakland Gen Health Systems, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued January 10, 2006 (Docket No. 256164).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Carol Ann Riccardi
Employer: Oakland General Health Systems / St. John Oakland Hospital
Docket no.: 04-050903-AE
Date of decision: January 10, 2006

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COURT OF APPEALS HOLDING: A finding of statutory misconduct due to excessive absenteeism or tardiness cannot be made if there is no evidence that any of the absences were not for good cause.

FACTS: Claimant’s accumulation of absences for various reasons led to her termination under Employer’s “no-fault” attendance system which set forth a schedule detailing how escalating amounts of absenteeism would lead to increasingly severe penalties. The majority of the absences were documented as due to illness, doctor’s visits, car trouble, or problems at home. Claimant was initially granted benefits under the reasoning that she was not discharged for a deliberate disregard of her employer’s interests. This determination was overruled by the ALJ, and affirmed by the Board of Review and the Circuit Court, finding that Claimant had committed disqualifying misconduct under the reasoning that her absences were excessive, she was aware of the attendance policy that could lead to dismissal, and she “made very little effort” to correct her attendance problem.

DECISION: The orders of the below tribunals are reversed, and the initial determination finding Claimant entitled to benefits is reinstated.

RATIONALE: Absenteeism and tardiness for reasons that are not outside a claimant’s control may constitute statutory misconduct. However, misconduct requires a determination that the claimant’s attendance issues were without good cause, and it is the employer’s burden to show this.

Here, no below tribunal made any factual findings discrediting Claimant’s explanations for her absences, rather only finding her disqualified due to the excessive nature of her absences and taking no remedial action despite knowing that her job was in jeopardy. Without a finding that her absences were not for good cause, the burden required to establish disqualifying misconduct was not met. The below tribunals erred in finding statutory misconduct.

Digest Author: Jack Battaglia
Digest Updated: 9/14

Lakeshore Public Academy v Scribner – 10.91

Lakeshore Public Academy v Scribner
Digest no. 10.91

Section 29(1) (a)

Cite as: Lakeshore Pub Academy v Scribner, Oceana Circuit Court, Docket No. 03-004110-AE (May 10, 2004).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Patricia A. Scribner
Employer: Lakeshore Public Academy
Docket no.: B2003-06865-RO1-170206
Date of decision: May 10, 2004

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CIRCUIT COURT HOLDING: Claimant established good cause for leaving. Employer did not complete the process of handling the claimant’s complaint by communicating to her that it was investigated and what action would or would not be taken in response. The claimant reasonably concluded the employer was unable or unwilling to discipline a co-worker who violated employer’s rule against threatening behavior.

FACTS: Claimant worked as a teacher. Another teacher and his wife, confronted claimant in her classroom regarding her discipline of their child on the previous day. Claimant testified the other teacher put his finger in her face, glared at her, and made intimidating comments. This happened as students were entering the classroom. Claimant reported this incident to the employer, and indicated she could not work under those conditions. Employer had a policy prohibiting threatening behavior toward staff which provided that if a threat occurred, the perpetrator would be disciplined. Employer’s witness investigated the incident, but could not reconcile differing statements from claimant and the other teacher, so the teacher was not disciplined. After not hearing anything more from the administration, claimant resigned a couple weeks later.

DECISION: Claimant is not disqualified for voluntary leaving.

RATIONALE: “The ALJ’s decision turned on the failure of the Academy to complete the normal and expected handling of an employee’s grievance by communicating to the employee the results of the investigation and what, if any, action would be taken in response to the complaint.” It is the manner in which employer handled the complaint, not the failure to impose discipline, that leads to a finding of non-disqualification.

Digest Author: Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated: 
11/04

Human Capability Corp v Carson – 10.96

Human Capability Corp v Carson
Digest no. 10.96

Section 29(1)(a)

Cite as: Human Capability Corp v Carson, Wayne Circuit Court, Docket No. 03-331656-AE (April 6, 2004).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Barbara D. Carson
Employer: Human Capability Corporation
Docket no.: B2003-02940-169363
Date of decision: April 6, 2004

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CIRCUIT COURT HOLDING: Where the employer unilaterally changed the terms and conditions of employment by altering the employee handbook to include non-competition and prohibition of outside employment provisions, the claimant had good cause for voluntary leaving.

FACTS: In January 2002, employer updated the policies contained in its 1998 employee handbook. The 2002 employee handbook contained a non-competition provision and prohibited outside employment. The claimant refused to sign and was separated from employment. The 1998 employee handbook prohibited outside work on employer’s time, and lacked an express provision barring work with a competitor after separating from employer’s employ.

DECISION: Claimant is not disqualified for voluntary leaving.

RATIONALE: The employer did not dispute that claimant left work voluntarily. The employer asserted claimant lacked good cause for leaving because claimant was an at-will employee, who lacked an employment contract or a legitimate expectation that employer would not alter the terms and conditions or employment. The court held that employer’s argument was misplaced – that claimant’s employment status and employer’s right to alter the terms and conditions of work would be pertinent if the enforceability of a common-law employment contract were at issue. Toussaint v Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Michigan, 408 Mich 579 (1980). The court found that Toussaint and its progeny do not govern administrative proceedings when the issue is whether the claimant left with good cause attributable to employer under Section 29(1)(a) of the Act.

The addition of the moonlighting prohibition and anti-compete clause were a substantial and material change in the terms of employment.

Digest Author:  Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated: 11/04

Pinecrest Custom Homes v Meines – 16.70

Pinecrest Custom Homes v Meines
Digest no. 16.70

Section 32a

Cite as: Pinecrest Custom Homes v Meines, Kent Circuit Court, No. 02-03823-AE (October 8, 2002).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Janis Meines
Employer: Pinecrest Custom Homes
Docket no.: B2001-14696-RM1-161795
Date of decision: October 8, 2002

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CIRCUIT COURT HOLDING: Detrimental reliance on incorrect advice from a representative of the Agency constitutes “good cause” for filing a late protest.

FACTS: Claimant quit her job due to abusive conduct by the husband of the owner. Claimant filed for benefits. A determination held her disqualified for benefits under Section 29(1)(a). Claimant telephoned the claims examiner who issued the determination to ask what would be required to reverse the determination. Claimant testified the claims examiner told her (incorrectly) she would have to “prove with medical records or police reports that she had been ‘physically injured.’” Claimant did not file a timely protest of the determination because she did not have such evidence. A few weeks later, claimant met the person who had replaced her. That person also quit due to abusive conduct from employer’s husband and was seeking benefits. She told claimant other employees had quit for the same reason and had received benefits. Claimant then filed an untimely protest.

DECISION: The claimant established good cause for her late protest.

RATIONALE: “What justifies considering the late filing of a new, additional or reopened claim seems intuitively to justify considering the late protest of the initial determination of a claim.” That definition of “good cause” is “a justifiable reason, determined in accordance with the standard of conduct expected of an individual acting as a reasonable person in light of all the circumstances, that prevented a timely filing or reporting to file….” The statement of a “representative of the Unemployment Agency that a protest could succeed only with evidence that one does not have compels the conclusion that there is no point to a protest; reasonable people do not do the futile. [I]t is not reasonable to expect lay-people to ignore whom the government holds out to be an expert.” Claimant “had good cause for not protesting until she learned that she had been misled.”

Digest Author: Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated:
11/04

Pool v R S Leasing, Inc – 16.69

Pool v R S Leasing, Inc
Digest no. 16.69

Section 32a

Cite as: Pool v R S Leasing, Inc, Wayne Circuit Court, No. 01-138871-AE (May 3, 2002).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Brinda J. Pool
Employer: R. S. Leasing, Inc.
Docket no.: B2001-08251-159781W
Date of decision: May 3, 2002

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CIRCUIT COURT HOLDING: Where claimant’s late protest was attributable to her parents’ medical problems, good cause for reconsideration was established.

FACTS: On January 2, 2001 claimant received a determination holding her disqualified. The Agency received claimant’s protest on March 12, 2001. The Agency requested an explanation for the untimely protest. Claimant disclosed that she had been out of town because her parents were ill. The Agency denied her request for redetermination. Claimant testified that after she received the determination, she left town to care for her parents, both seriously ill. She thought she would return before the 30-day appeal period expired, but did not return until February 28, 2001. She mailed her protest after the 30-day appeal period expired. She did not mail the protest before leaving town because her main concern was her parents’ health. The Board found she failed to show good cause for her late protest.

DECISION: The claimant demonstrated good cause for her late appeal of the Agency’s determination.

RATIONALE: The plain language of Rule 270(1) provides that the “Rule’s [specific] list of grounds for finding good cause is not exclusive,” and Rule 210(2)(e)(v) provides that “[g]ood cause for late filing of a new, additional, or reopened claim” includes “[p]ersonal physical incapacity or the physical incapacity or death of a relative . . ..” Reading the two Rules together leads to the conclusion good cause was established.

Digest Author: Board of Review (original digest here)
Digest Updated:
11/04