ORDER ON RULE 80C APPEAL
Bruce C. Mallonee Justice, Maine Superior Court
Before the Court is an M.R. Civ. P. 80C appeal by the Petitioner, Antonio Arce, from a decision of the Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission finding that Mr. Arce was not eligible for Workers Eligibility Allowance while in training under the Trade Adjustment Assistance ("TAA") program. On March 2, 2015, the Bureau of Employment Services denied Mr. Arce's application for TAA, and Mr. Arce appealed. Hearing was held on March 18, 2015, and the Administrative Hearing Officer issued his decision affirming the Bureau of Employment Services on March 24, 2015. Mr. Arce appealed to the Unemployment Insurance Commission, which rendered its decision affirming the Administrative Hearing Officer on May 15, 2015, based on the existing evidentiary record. Mr. Arce filed a request to reconsider, which was denied on July 15, 2015. Petitioner filed this 80C appeal on August 13, 2015. Petitioner submitted additional evidence to support his claim, which was admitted over Respondent's objection.
This order reviews the record as developed before the administrative agency and outlines the standard of review. Both are critically important to this appeal. Petitioner is intelligent and capable, but he is not a lawyer. Had he had legal assistance he might have framed his presentation to the Bureau of Employment Services so as to include additional facts at the initial hearing-particularly, the different types of carpentry work he was willing to perform, and the possibilities of defraying some of the costs of training at his chosen institution that he now asks this Court to reconsider. As summarized below, however, this Court's review is limited to the record as it was developed before the agency. This Court cannot consider evidence that was not offered at the hearing or considered by the Unemployment Insurance Commission. The same rule applies at every stage in the appeal process-any further appeal will also be limited to the administrative record.
Neither can this Court substitute its own interpretation of the record for the agency's interpretation. If the agency's interpretation fell within the bounds of the law, and there are facts to support it, it must be upheld.
Having reviewed the record, the parties' filings, and their respective arguments, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission.
Antonio Arce was laid off after twenty-seven years of employment at the Verso paper mill on December 31, 2014. (R. 79-80.) Pursuant to Trade Adjustment Assistance ("TAA") certificate number 85574, Mr. Arce, as an adversely affected worker, was eligible to apply for TAA. (R. 18.) The TAA certificate has been effective from January 7, 2014, to November 12, 2016. (R. 18.) As part of the TAA program, Mr. Arce applied for a training allowance to pursue a carpentry diploma through a two-year preservation carpentry program at North Bennett Street School in Boston, MA. (R. 99.) On March 2, 2015, the Bureau of Employment Services denied Mr. Arce's request for training on the grounds that (1) there was not a reasonable expectation of employment following the training, and (2) the training is not available at a reasonable cost. (R. 100.) This decision was affirmed on appeal by the Unemployment Insurance Commission on May 15, 2015, and affirmed again on appeal on July 15, 2015. (R. 2, 9.)
Preservation carpentry is a specialized construction trade focused on repairing or restoring buildings to their original condition. (R. 19.) North Bennett Street School accepts twenty-six students for its preservation carpentry program each year. (R. 66.) North Bennett's post-graduation employment rate is between 77% and 90%, depending on which source is consulted. (R. 50; Pet'r's Ex. 2.) The 90% employment rate does not identify the nature of the employment, stating that 90% of graduates are employed in related fields. (Pet'r's Ex. 2.)
The job outlook for a person graduating with a degree in preservation carpentry is very speculative. (Pet'r's Ex. 2.) Mr. Arce testified that he contacted a carpenter's union in Massachusetts, and conceded that the union would not likely provide employment in preservation carpentry. (R. 70-71.) Mr. Arce puts forth an expansive list of carpentry job openings in the New England area spanning a full year, of which only approximately thirty are entry-level paid jobs in preservation carpentry. (Pet'r's Ex. 4.)
The cost of the two-year preservation carpentry program at North Bennett is $49, 986. (R. 19, 100.) At the time of the Administrative Hearing Officer's decision, Mr. Arce was still living in Maine and had no concrete plans to move closer to North Bennett (though he mentioned that he might be able to live with family during his schooling), so the subsistence cost (training, meals, etc.) was estimated at $54, 000. (R. 19.) Mr. Arce has since moved to West Bridgewater, MA, which is about thirty miles outside Boston, thereby decreasing the estimated subsistence cost. (R. 12.) Mr. Arce also qualified for a $4, 800 scholarship award and $18, 800 in federal loan assistance, which brings the tuition cost down to $26, 186. (Pet'r's Br. 8.) There are other general carpentry programs available to Mr. Arce at lesser cost, but these do not specialize in preservation carpentry. (R. 47.)
Mr. Arce has a high school diploma, thirty credit hours from the University of Maine in forest development and education, a CDL class B driver's license, sixty-four hours of welding, and has taken a six-month carpentry program. (R. 19, 91.) At Verso paper mill, Mr. Arce worked as a laborer and production worker, and prior to that he worked shipping log homes. (R. 86, 91.) Throughout his employment with Verso, Mr. Arce coached various sports and ran a small handyman business. (R. 90.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A determination or redetermination of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) or Trade Readjustment Allowance (TRA) is subject to review in the same manner and to the same extent as determinations and redeterminations under Maine law. 20 C.F.R. § 617.51(a). When the Superior Court sits as an intermediate appellate court and reviews an appealed agency decision, the agency decision is ...