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Quaqua v. Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

January 5, 2018

EMMANUEL QUAQUA, Petitioner
v.
MAINE UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE COMMISSION, Respondent

          DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM R. STOKES, JUSTICE.

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the court on an appeal by Emmanuel Quaqua (Claimant) from the decision of the Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission (Commission) which dismissed, for lack of jurisdiction, the Petitioner's appeal of an administrative Hearing Officer's ruling denying him unemployment compensation benefits on the ground that he refused to accept an offer of suitable employment. This appeal has been brought in accordance with 26 M.R.S. §1194 (a), 5 M.R.S. §§1101-1108 (Administrative Procedure Act), and M.R.Civ.P. 80C.

         THE DECISIONS BELOW

         In a Deputy's decision dated February 8, 2017, the Petitioner was awarded benefits from December 11, 2016.[1] The employer (Goodall Landscaping, Inc.) filed a timely appeal. A telephone hearing was scheduled for March 6, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. (R. at 32). The notice of hearing was provided to both the Petitioner and the employer and listed the telephone contact numbers for each of them. The notice informed the parties that they would be called "within 15 minutes of the scheduled hearing time, " and that if the correct telephone number was not listed, "please inform us of your correct number by calling .... at least, ONE WORKING DAY PRIOR TO the time of your hearing." (Id.) (emphasis in original). The notice also expressly stated that the "unavailability of a party at the time the Hearing Officer places a call to the party's telephone number, " would be treated as "a failure to appear and may result in dismissal of the appeal." (Id.) Finally, the notice, in bold letters, stated: "Failure to appear at the hearing may result in dismissal of the appeal, denial of benefits, increased unemployment insurance taxes and loss of any right of further legal review." (Id.)

         On the day and at the time scheduled for the hearing, (March 6, 2017 at 2:00 p. m.), the Hearing Officer called both the employer and the Petitioner. The Petitioner did not answer, but the following message was received by the Hearing Officer: "I'm sorry, but the person you called has a voicemail that has not been set up yet. Goodbye." (R. at 17). Thereafter, the hearing continued with the employer's representative providing testimony. The Petitioner did not call in to the hearing and the evidence was closed and the hearing concluded at 2:21 p. m. (R. at 30).

         In a decision dated and mailed on March 10, 2017, the Hearing Officer found that the Petitioner had refused to accept an offer of suitable work within the meaning of 26 M.R.S. §1193(3) and was, therefore, disqualified from benefits. (R. at 11). The Hearing Officer found that the Petitioner had been erroneously awarded benefits in the amount of $3, 432.00 that constituted an overpayment, "which must be repaid." (R. at 12).

         The Petitioner filed a timely appeal to the Commission. (R. at 8). In his statement of reasons for the appeal, he wrote:

I talked to someone from the State that called from a career center that day but never the deputy for the appeals hearing. I would very much like to dispute some 'facts' from my former employer.

(R. at 8).

         In a Decision dated April 28, 2017, the Unemployment Insurance Commission dismissed the appeal on the basis that it lacked jurisdiction to consider it because the Petitioner had failed to appear at the telephone hearing held on March 6, 2017 at 2:00 p.m., and he had not shown "good cause" for his failure to appear. (R. at 1-5).

         The Petitioner filed a timely appeal to this court on May 26, 2017. Briefing was completed on September 18, 2017. The State waived oral argument. The Petitioner could not be reached to determine his position regarding oral argument.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Law Court has recently reaffirmed the principle that judicial review of administrative agency decisions is "deferential and limited." Passadumkeag Mountain Friends v. Bd. of Envtl. Prot,2014 ME 116, ¶ 12, 102 A.3d 1181 (quoting Friends of Lincoln Lakes v. Bd. of Envtl. Prot.,2010 ME 18, ¶ 12, 989 A.2d 1128). The court is not permitted to overturn an agency's decision "unless it: violates the Constitution or statutes; exceeds the agency's authority; is procedurally unlawful; is arbitrary or capricious; constitutes an abuse of discretion; is affected by bias or error of law; or is unsupported by the evidence in the record." Kroger v Departmental of Environmental Protection,2005 ME. 50, ¶ 7, 870 A.2d 566. The ...


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