THOMAS WOODMASKA v. BOARD OF REVIEW DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

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NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE

APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY

APPELLATE DIVISION

DOCKET NO. A-0

THOMAS WOODMASKA,

Appellant,

v.

BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR,

and MIRROR LAKE PARTNERS, LLC,

Respondents.

_______________________________________________

December 8, 2014

 

Submitted October 15, 2014 Decided

Before Judges Nugent and Manahan.

On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor, Docket No. 365,578.

Thomas Woodmaska, appellant pro se.

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent Board of Review (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Nicole M. DeMuro, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Respondent Mirror Lake Partners, LLC, joins in the brief filed by respondent Board of Review.

PER CURIAM

Thomas Woodmaska appeals from a final decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor (Board), affirming the Appeal Tribunal's (Tribunal) decision denying him an extension of unemployment benefits. We affirm.

Woodmaska worked as an asset portfolio manager for Mirror Lake Partners, LLC from May 1, 2010 until October 22, 2010. On November 28, 2010, Woodmaska filed a claim for unemployment benefits. By Notice mailed December 16, 2010, Woodmaska was found qualified for six weeks of benefits. Woodmaska claims he was instructed by an employee of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOL) that he could file a new claim on November 27, 2011. When Woodmaska filed his new claim on that date he was determined to be financially eligible for eighteen weeks of benefits. Woodmaska asserts that had he waited to file his November 28, 2010 claim until January 2, 2011 he would have been eligible for up to seventy-two weeks of benefits.

On December 3, 2011, the DOL mailed a Notice of Invalid Claim, advising Woodmaska he was not entitled to receive any unemployment benefits on the November 27, 2011 claim since he had not earned "six times [his] previous claim's weekly benefit rate in four weeks of employment since filing [his] previous claim dated November 28, 2010."

Upon receiving the Notice, Woodmaska filed an appeal. Subsequent to a hearing before a Deputy Director in May 2012, the Tribunal initially reversed the Deputy's determination and found Woodmaska's unemployment claim valid. On June 15, 2012, the Tribunal issued an amended decision affirming the Deputy's determination. The Tribunal found that Woodmaska had not worked or earned any wages since he separated from his employer on October 22, 2010. The Tribunal determined N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(e)(6) requires an individual applying for benefits in a successive year have "earned at least six times his previous weekly benefit amount" and have "four weeks of employment since the beginning of the immediately preceding benefit year." Since Woodmaska lacked the required work and wages, the Tribunal found the claim invalid.

In a decision dated September 4, 2012, the Board affirmed the decision of the Tribunal. The Board further denied Woodmaska's request to postdate the original claim dated November 28, 2010 finding there was no authority to permit postdating his claim. On appeal, Woodmaska argues he was provided with "incorrect advice" by DOL employees when he filed his initial claim in November 2010 by not being advised that if he delayed filing until January 2011 he would have been eligible for seventy-two weeks of benefits rather than eighteen weeks of benefits. In opposition, the DOL argues it did not provide Woodmaska with any advice and that it was Woodmaska who independently chose when to apply for benefits.

Unemployment Compensation Law is "remedial in nature . . . [and] must be liberally construed in light of [its] beneficent purposes." Teichler v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., 24 N.J. 585, 592 (1957); see also Meaney v. Bd. of Review, 151 N.J. Super. 295, 300 (App. Div. 1977).

Our scope of review is limited. We are bound to affirm the Board's determination if reasonably based on the proofs. Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). "'[T]he test is not whether an appellate court would come to the same conclusion if the original determination was its to make, but rather whether the factfinder could reasonably so conclude upon the proofs.'" Ibid. (quoting Charatan v. Bd. of Review, 200 N.J. Super. 74, 79 (App. Div. 1985)). However, we may intervene if the agency's action was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or it was "'clearly inconsistent with its statutory mission or with other State policy.'" Ibid. (quoting George Harms Constr. Co. v. N.J. Tpk. Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994)).

We first address Woodmaska's argument concerning his November 2010 claim. In Meaney, we addressed the issue of misinformation received by a claimant. There the claimant reported to an unemployment office in January 1975 to inquire about filing a claim for benefits. Meaney, supra, 151 N.J. Super. at 297. Claimant was erroneously instructed by a Division of Unemployment employee that she should claim benefits in New York rather than New Jersey. Id. When claimant sought to seek benefits in New York, she was advised there to seek benefits in New Jersey. Id. Thereafter, it was determined through investigation that her employer failed to file reports and to submit unemployment contributions to New Jersey. Id. In January 1976, claimant filed a claim which was denied because she had not worked, and thus had no wages, during the base year preceding her benefit claim. Id. at 297-98. We reversed the Board's decision denying benefits noting that the "[f]ailure to file a timely claim does not justify pre-dating where the late filing is due to the claimant's neglect or oversight or misunderstanding." Id. at 299. We concluded that claimant's failure to file the claim in January 1975 was the consequence of misinformation and not due to her neglect. Id. at 300. Thus, based upon the misinformation and not due to her neglect, we found claimant was entitled to have her claim pre-dated. Id.

Woodmaska claims the DOL had a "fiduciary duty" to inform him that by waiting until January 2011 to file, he would be eligible for an additional fifty-four weeks of benefits. As we noted in Meaney, claimants for unemployment benefits often do not consult or retain counsel in making claims. Further, they ordinarily rely on the "expertise and acknowledged helpfulness of the clerks and employees of the Division who serve the public at the various unemployment offices." Id. at 299. Here, Woodmaska seeks to extend our ruling in Meaney to include a duty to inform one who is otherwise eligible for benefits of the consequences of the application's timing. We are cognizant of the "beneficent" purpose of unemployment benefits. However, in the absence of an affirmative misrepresentation, we find no justiciable basis to extend our decision in Meaney to impose the argued for "fiduciary duty" upon the DOL.

Finally, as the Board argues - and we agree - regardless of when Woodmaska filed his second claim, the claim would be deemed invalid. Woodmaska, having not been employed since October 2010, lacked the requisite period of employment and wages. N.J.S.A. 43:21-4(e)(6).

Affirmed.