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Ucheamaka MBA v. Bayhealth Medical Center, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

December 5, 2014

UCHEAMAKA MBA, Appellant,
v.
BAYHEALTH MEDICAL CENTER, INC., Appellee.

Submitted: November 3, 2014

Upon Consideration of Appellant's Appeal from the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board.

Ucheamaka MBA, Pro se.

E. Chaney Hall, Esquire, Greenburg Traurig, LLP, Wilmington, Delaware, and Pro Hac Vice Johnine P. Barnes, Esquire, Washington, DC for Appellee.

Paige J. Schmittinger, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware for Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board.

ORDER

Robert B. Young J.

SUMMARY

Ucheamaka Mba ("Appellant") appeals from a decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board ("the Board"), denying her application for unemployment insurance compensation. Appellant filed a claim for benefits in January 2014, following a prolonged absence from her position at Bayhealth Medical Center, Inc. ("Appellee"). The heart of this appeal is controlled by 19 Del. Code § 3314(2), providing that employees who voluntarily quit their jobs without good cause shall be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. The resolution of this matter rests upon whether the Board properly found that Appellant's indefinite leave, and subsequent filing for unemployment insurance, fit the scenario contemplated by the statute. This Court is to reverse the ruling of the Board only if the opinion was not based in substantial evidence, or was the result of legal error. Finding neither to be the case, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Board.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE

Appellant began working for Appellee on April 9, 2010, as a Nursing Assistant/Unit Secretary. By her own request, Appellant switched to part-time status, starting on July 18, 2010. On October 24, 2010, Appellant, again of her own accord, asked for an additional reduction in hours, switching to what is known as "relief" status. Citing her husband's travel schedule, Appellant took advantage of Appellee's policy of allowing employees to take a six month, unpaid leave of absence, wherein the employee's position is held open for her. Alternatively, the employee is able to reapply as an internal hire when ready. Appellant was granted such leave on March 6, 2013.

During this time, Appellee was in regular contact with Appellant, discussing, a m o ng other things, Appellant's expected time frame for returning to work. Appellant initially stated she would be returning in September or October. Having not heard from Appellant, Appellee's representative, Debbie Hines ("Hines"), contacted Appellant in October 2013. By email dated October 20, 2013, Appellant informed Hines that she would not be able to return to work until December, as her mother had recently passed away. Hines responded that Appellant would be placed on "administrative separation, " as the six months had now expired, but that she was free to reapply at any time. Although there is some discord between the parties as to the exact meaning of Appellant's reply email dated October 23, 2013, it can at least be said Appellant acknowledged the separation, promising to be in touch once the funeral arrangements were completed. On October 28, 2013, Appellant received a letter from Appellee, memorializing the administrative separation. This letter did not, however, mention the possibility of re-application. Following this exchange, it is undisputed that Appellant never attempted reinstatement with Appellee.

Upon the completion of the funeral arrangements for her mother, Appellant applied for unemployment insurance benefits in January 2014. This claim was denied, and Appellant appealed. On March 4, 2014, the Appeals Referee determined that Appellant was, indeed, eligible for unemployment benefits. The Referee based her decision on 19 Del. Code § 3314(2), holding that Appellant had not been discharged for just cause, and thus, could rightfully receive the insurance payments. Appellee appealed this decision to the Board, which reversed the ruling of the Appeals Referee. This time, the Board applied 19 Del. Code § 3314(1), finding that Appellant had voluntarily left Appellee's employ, lacking good cause. The Board denied Appellant's benefits.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

For administrative board appeals, this Court is limited to reviewing whether the Board 's decision is supported by substantial evidence and free from legal errors.[1]Substantial evidence is that which "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."[2] It is "more than a scintilla, but less than preponderance of the evidence."[3] An abuse of discretion will be found if the board "acts arbitrarily or capriciously...exceeds the bounds of reason in view of the circumstances and has ignored recognized rules of law or practice so as to produce injustice."[4] Where an agency has interpreted and applied a statute, the court's review is de novo.[5] In ...


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