Protecting the Rights of Service Members, and a Time for Appeal Issue

Newman v. Board of Review, 434 N.J. Super. 493 (App. Div. 2014).  This is a case in which plaintiff sought unemployment benefits.  The detailed facts of the case are almost not relevant.  In an opinion by Judge Koblitz, on plaintiff’s appeal from an appellate administrative decision, the Appellate Division reversed, for two purely legal reasons, applying the de novo standard of review.

First, proceedings occurred while plaintiff was in the Air Force and therefore could not be present.  That violated a federal statute, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 U.S.C. §§501-597, whose purpose is to “provide temporary suspension of judicial and administrative proceedings and transactions that may adversely affect the civil rights of servicemembers during their military service.”  For that reason alone, reversal was required.

But there was also an issue as to the timeliness of the appeal by the employer, Lowe’s, from the notice of the original agency determination that plaintiff was eligible for benefits (a ruling that was later reversed on the administrative appeal of which plaintiff sought review in the Appellate Division).  Lowe’s used UC Express as a representative for unemployment compensation matters.  The notice of eligibility was sent initially to UC  Express, who then transmitted the notice to Lowe’s.  The statutory appeal period was “within seven calendar days after delivery of notification of an initial determination.”  Judge Koblitz observed that this limitations period is, at least as to employers, a “rigid statutory period.”

The agency had determined that Lowe’s had appealed within seven days of Lowe’s having received the initial notification from UC Express.  But there was no evidence as to when UC Express had received that notification, and that date was the one that would trigger the appeal period, since UC Express was Lowe’s’ “representative with specific authority to receive determinations from an administrative body on behalf of Lowe’s.”  Accordingly, “a rehearing as to timeliness of Lowe’s appeal would be necessary even absent the clear violation of federal law” regarding servicemembers.