December 11, 2014
SONJA TAYLOR-BRAY, Appellant,
UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE APPEALS BOARD, Appellee.
Submitted: October 8, 2014
Upon the Appeal of the Decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.
Sonja Taylor-Bray, pro se
Paige J. Schmittinger, Esquire of the Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware; attorney for the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.
William L. Witham, Jr. Resident Judge
Before the Court is the pro se appeal of Appellant Sonja Taylor-Bray (hereinafter "Appellant") from the decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (hereinafter "the Board" or "the UIAB") denying Appellant's appeal as untimely pursuant to 19 Del. C. § 3318(b). The Court has reviewed the record in this matter and the parties' submissions. For the following reasons, the Board's decision is AFFIRMED.
On August 19, 2013, the Delaware Department of Labor (hereinafter "the Department") issued a Notice of Determination informing Appellant that she had been overpaid benefits due to non-fraudulent actions, and that Appellant was liable to the Department for recoupment of those benefits. The Notice informed Appellant that she had been overpaid $1, 105.00 in benefits during the time period of August 6, 2011 to October 29, 2011. The Notice of Determination was mailed to Appellant's address of record at that time in Harrington, Delaware, and stated that she had until August 29, 2013 to file an appeal. Appellant filed an appeal on February 7, 2014.
On March 4, 2014, the Appeals Referee held a hearing on Appellant's case, and subsequently issued a decision that Appellant's appeal of the August 29, 2013 Notice of Determination was untimely. The Appeals Referee concluded that the appeal was untimely pursuant to 19 Del. C. § 3318(b). The Appeals Referee also noted that the mail was never returned to the Post Office or The Department, and was sent to the last address on record for Appellant. Appellant stated her reasoning for filing late was that the Local Office already had information pertinent to her appeal. Next, Appellant states that another reason she failed to respond to the Determination was due to emotional duress, and states she was under doctor's care during August 2013, which was when the appeal should have been filed.
The Appellant timely appealed the Appeals Referee's decision to the Board. On April 2, 2014, the UIAB decided Appellant's claim, affirming that Appellant's original appeal was untimely. The Board found no error in the Appeals Referee's findings or conclusions. The Board concluded that Appellant's appeal was untimely, through no fault of the Department of Labor personnel. Accordingly, the Board affirmed the Appeals Referee's decision. Appellant timely filed this appeal on June 2, 2014.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
When this Court reviews a procedural decision of the UIAB–which is a discretionary decision, as opposed to a factual decision that would trigger substantial evidence review–the Court must determine whether the UIAB abused its discretion in rendering its decision. There is no abuse of discretion unless the Board based its procedural decision "on clearly unreasonable or capricious grounds" or the Board "exceeds the bounds of reason in view of the circumstances and had ignored recognized rules of law or practices so as to produce injustice." If there is no abuse of discretion, the Court must affirm the Board's decision if the Board did not otherwise commit an error of law.
Section 3318(b) of Title 19 of the Delaware Code provides that a Claims Deputy's determination becomes final unless a claimant for unemployment benefits has filed an appeal from the determination within ten calendar days from when the decision was "mailed to the last known addresses of the claimant and the last employer. . . ." Under 19 Del. C. § 3320, the Board has discretion to consider an untimely appeal "if the lateness of the filing can be traced back to an error of the UIAB, or in those cases where the interests of justice would not be served by inaction."
The only issue that was before the Board throughout this appeals process was the timely appeal of the August 19, 2013 Claims Deputy's determination that Appellant was disqualified from receiving benefits. The Notice of Determination explicitly stated that the decision would become final on August 29, 2013. Appellant filed her appeal from that determination on February 7, 2014, after the decision had already become final. Thus, Appellant's appeal was untimely.
Based on the transcript from the Administrative Hearing and the Appellant's brief, it appears Appellant was attempting, at least in part, to discuss a 2010 UIAB decision whereby this Court denied her appeal. These statements are irrelevant to the appeal at bar. She lastly states that she was under duress during August of 2013, the month in which she was expected to timely file her appeal. However, Appellant does not give any indication that she was in any way prevented from filing her appeal due to such an ailment, and does not deny being in receipt of the Notice of Determination. Further, the Appeals Referee confirmed the address on record for Appellant, showing it is the address to which the Notice was sent.
The Court is conscious of the fact that Appellant is litigating this appeal pro se. Courts are at liberty to reasonably interpret a pro se litigant's filings, pleadings and appeals "in a favorable light to alleviate the technical inaccuracies typical in many pro se legal arguments. . . ." However, barring extraordinary circumstances, "procedural requirements are not relaxed for any type of litigant. . . ." The timely filing of an appeal constitutes as a procedural requirement. Appellant has failed to show that extraordinary circumstances existed that prevented her from responding to the UIAB's decision prior to the August 29, 2013 deadline; thus, the Court cannot relax the ten (10) day filing period for Appellant. However, the issue before this Court is if there is substantial evidence in the record sufficient to support that the Board's findings are free from legal error, and the Court finds that they are.
The Board's decision denying Appellant's untimely appeal was neither clearly unreasonable nor capricious, nor did the Board otherwise exceed the bounds of reason. Accordingly, the Board did not abuse its discretion.
In light of the absence of any error of law or abuse of discretion, the decision of the UIAB must be, and is, hereby AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.