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Short v. Mountaire Farms & Unemployment Insurance Appeal Bd.

Superior Court of Delaware, Sussex County

September 25, 2013

James Short
Mountaire Farms and Unemployment Insurance Appeal Bd.

Submitted: September 5, 2013

Dear Counsel: [1]

For the reasons discussed below, the Board's decision is REVERSED and REMANDED to make findings consistent with this opinion.


James Short began work as a mechanical operator for Mountaire Farms on November 25, 2011. Short's employment required him to complete a medical questionnaire. On this questionnaire appeared the questions "[h]ave you ever had any type of . . . [w]rist injury or sprains or surgery" and "[h]ave you ever had any type of hand problems[]?"[2] Short answered "NO" to both.[3] Also, on the questionnaire, an attestation of trust appeared above Short's signature:

I understand that all questions must be answered and all questions must be answered and all positive responses must be explained in specific detail: failure to do so will be considered an omission. I understand that omissions as well as false or misleading information give on my Medical History Questionnaire may result in discharge whenever discovered.[4]

Mountaire's employment policy prohibited reporting false information.

On July 31, 2012, Short was involved in a work-related accident, requiring an X-ray on his left hand. On the X-ray report dated August 20, 2012, a notation appeared that the X-ray's images were "compared with the study of 11/11/2010."[5] Mountaire inquired about the notation and requested a copy of the 2010 report. The 2010 X-ray had been performed because Short had experienced joint pain. The report of that X-ray stated that everything appeared normal, except for a "navicular cyst."[6] On the medical questionnaire, Short made no indication of any prior issues relating to his hand. According to the Appeals Referee, Short's denial of having any hand-related issues was countered by his medical provider. Mountaire terminated Short on August 20, 2012.

When Short applied for unemployment benefits, the Claims Deputy found just cause for Short's termination, barring him from receiving any benefits. Short appealed this decision to the Appeals Referee. He testified that he did not remember the 2010 incident when he applied to Mountaire because "the questionnaire focused on injuries, like broken bones, " and removal of a cyst two years prior did not warrant notation.[7] A Mountaire Human Resources representative testified before the Referee that Short "was discharged for reporting false information on his medical history questionnaire."[8] A medical care supervisor also testified for Mountaire, stating that Short's 2012 X-ray noted a 2010 X-ray, and that Mountaire, while considering a worker's compensation claim, verified that the 2010 X-ray had been taken and that Short never informed Mountaire about the X-ray. The Referee affirmed the Claims Deputy.

Short appealed the Referee's decision to the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board. Short testified that his only hand-related issue in 2010 was a cyst that disappeared on its own without surgery. He "did not consider a cyst to be something he had to report."[9] When asked for documentation establishing lack of surgery, Short stated that the doctor for the 2010 incident was "no longer in practice."[10] The Mountaire Human Resources representative who had testified before the Referee testified before the Board that, allegedly, the hospital where Short received surgery in relation to the 2010 X-ray forwarded Mountaire the necessary documentation.

The Board affirmed the Referee's decision. Putting aside the surgery issue, the Board found that in 2010, Short "clearly had problems, " which ultimately led him to receive an X-ray.[11] From its questionnaire, Mountaire clearly wanted to know about any hand-related "problems" Short experienced in the past. The Board validated Mountaire in considering Short's omission to be a violation of Mountaire's policies, thus giving Mountaire reasonable grounds to terminate Short's employment.

Standard of Review

When reviewing appeals from the Board, this Court only will examine the record upon which the Board relied in making its decision.[12] This Court only determines whether substantial evidence supported the Board's decision, and whether the Board's decision lacked legal error.[13] The requisite degree of evidence is only "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."[14] Evaluating the evidence, deciding credibility issues, and determining factual questions are not within ...

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