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Obasi v. Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board

Superior Court of Delaware

January 9, 2019

NNENNA OBASI, Appellant,
v.
UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE APPEAL BOARD and WALMART Appellees.

          Submitted: November 1, 2018

          ORDER

          NOEL EASON PRIMOS, JUDGE

         Appellant/Claimant Nnenna Obasi (hereinafter "Ms. Obasi") has appealed a decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (hereinafter the "UIAB"), which affirmed the determination of the Appeals Referee denying her unemployment benefits. The Court's review is confined to the facts contained in the record, and it is those facts that are referenced herein.

         Ms. Obasi filed for unemployment benefits on February 4, 2018. Ms. Obasi had previously worked as a Sales Associate in the Meat Department at Walmart. Ms. Obasi was hired in August 2017 and subsequently terminated on January 27, 2018, for "excessive absenteeism and tardiness."[1] On March 1, 2018, Ms. Obasi was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits by a Claims Deputy.

         The Deputy's decision was mailed to Ms. Obasi on March 1, 2018, at her address of record in Dover, Delaware, and was not returned as undeliverable by the U.S. Postal Service. Claims Deputy decisions are considered final unless appealed within ten days.[2] Ten days from the date of the Claims Deputy's determination was March 11, 2018; however, because this date was a Sunday, Ms. Obasi's appeal was due no later than the next business day, March 12, 2018. Ms. Obasi did not file an appeal until March 16, 2018.

         A hearing before an Appeals Referee was subsequently held on April 17, 2018, to consider the sole issue of the timeliness of Ms. Obasi's appeal. Ms. Obasi failed to appear at this proceeding, and the Referee dismissed the appeal.[3]

         On April 24, 2018, Ms. Obasi requested that the UIAB hear an appeal of the Referee's decision.[4] On May 2, 2018, the UIAB remanded the case to the Appeals Referee "to allow all parties to attend." Subsequently, on May 29, 2018, the Referee once again conducted a hearing as to the timeliness of Ms. Obasi's appeal. Ms. Obasi asserted that her appeal was late because her apartment building was being renovated and she was moved to different apartments with minimal notice, which resulted in her not receiving her mail in a timely manner. The Referee affirmed the Claims Deputy's determination, holding that Ms. Obasi's appeal filed on March 16, 2018, was untimely and that her failure to file a timely appeal was not due to any administrative error on the part of the Department of Labor.[5] Rather, the Referee found that the Claims Deputy's determination had been properly mailed to Ms. Obasi to the address on record, that Ms. Obasi had received the determination, and that Ms. Obasi had failed to file a timely appeal within the time frame laid out in 19 Del. C. § 3318(b).

         On June 11, 2018, Ms. Obasi filed a second appeal of the Referee's decision to the UIAB. The UIAB affirmed the Referee's decision, finding that Ms. Obasi's case failed to exhibit "Departmental error."

         Ms. Obasi timely appealed the decision of the UIAB to this Court on July 23, 2018. In her appeal, Ms. Obasi stated that she had been moved from her apartment by the leasing office and had some "run around to get some mail."

         An appeal from the UIAB to this Court is confined to a determination of whether the UIAB's decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free from legal error.[6] Evidence is substantial when it is such that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.[7] The UIAB's findings are conclusive and will be affirmed if supported by "competent evidence having probative value."[8]The appellate court does not weigh the evidence or make its own factual findings, [9]but merely determines if the evidence is legally adequate to support the UIAB's factual findings.[10] The party that attacks the UIAB's decision bears the burden of proof.[11] The UIAB does have discretion to review untimely appeals, but such discretion is "exercised rarely and only in cases where there has been administrative error by the Department of Labor that deprived the claimant of the ability to file a timely appeal or where the interests of justice would be served."[12]

         Here, the Court finds that the UIAB's decision is supported by the evidence and is free from legal error and abuse of discretion. As the UIAB noted in its decision, "the Claims Deputy's Determination was mailed to [Ms. Obasi's] address on file with the Department creating a rebuttable presumption that the Decision was received by [Ms. Obasi]."[13] Ms. Obasi has not claimed any error by the Department of Labor, or stated any other grounds to indicate that the interests of justice would be served by the acceptance of her untimely appeal.

         Ms. Obasi does not contest the timeliness of the appeal, as she herself informed this Court that she was unable to file a timely appeal and explained that her apartment building was being renovated and that she was moved to different apartments with little notice, which resulted in her not receiving her mail in a timely manner. Even accepted as true, a claimant's failure to receive the Referee's decision will not excuse a claimant's late appeal "unless the mailing fails to reach a party because of some mistake made by employees of the Department of Labor."[14]

         Ms. Obasi has made no showing of a mistake or administrative error on the part of the Department of Labor. Indeed, the mailing appears to have been properly sent, as the UIAB noted in its decision, and this same address was used for later correspondence that Ms. Obasi apparently did receive, including the Referee's April 17, 2018 decision, which Ms. Obasi timely appealed on April 24, 2018, and the UIAB's May 2, 2018, remand decision. This Court must presume, in accordance with Delaware law, that the properly addressed mailing was received by Ms. Obasi, and mere denial of receipt without supporting evidence is insufficient to rebut such a presumption.[15]

         The Court now turns to determine if the UIAB abused its discretion in failing to hear the appeal sue sponte despite its untimeliness. Pursuant to 19 Del. C. § 3320(a), the UIAB may "affirm, modify, or reverse any decision of an appeal tribunal on the basis of the evidence previously submitted to the appeal tribunal...." As previously noted, the UIAB's sua sponte discretion to hear an untimely appeal is "exercised rarely and only in cases where there has been administrative error by the Department of Labor that has deprived the claimant of the ability to file a timely appeal or where the interests of justice would be served."[16] It is well settled that where the UIAB refuses to exercise its discretion to consider sua ...


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