Booth v. City of Burley, 12470

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Citation580 P.2d 75,99 Idaho 229
Docket NumberNo. 12470,12470
PartiesGary L. BOOTH, Claimant-Appellant, v. CITY OF BURLEY, Employer, and Department of Employment, Defendants-Respondents.
Decision Date14 June 1978

Gary L. Booth, pro se.

R. LaVar Marsh, Deputy Atty. Gen., Donald L. Harris, Asst. Atty. Gen., Boise, for Dept. of Employment.

William A. Parsons, Burley, for City of Burley.

McFADDEN, Justice.

On February 10, 1975, claimant-appellant Gary L. Booth was discharged as Chief of Police for defendant-respondent City of Burley (hereinafter respondent city). Thereafter appellant applied for unemployment benefits with defendant-respondent Idaho Department of Employment (hereinafter respondent department), but moved to Nebraska prior to the appeals examiner's determination of eligibility. Respondent city asserted nine reasons for appellant's discharge before the claims examiner, summarized as follows: leaving the city without properly notifying city officials; promoting members of the police department without approval; ordering uniforms and supplies without advance approval; failing to submit expense vouchers during the fiscal year in which expenses were incurred; misrepresenting the police department's budget surplus; hiring city personnel without advance approval; failing to discharge his wife from employment with the police department after being so requested by city officials; and improperly performing fiscal responsibilities. Appellant, however, did not respond to these charges. The claims examiner concluded from the statements submitted that appellant was discharged for misconduct in connection with his employment and denied appellant's claim for unemployment benefits.

After being denied benefits, appellant retained Idaho counsel and requested a redetermination, which was treated by respondent department as an appeal pursuant to I.C. § 72-1368(d). Pursuant to I.C. § 72-1344, a hearing was held before the Nebraska Unemployment Compensation appeals referee and appellant's recorded testimony, together with exhibits, was sent to the Idaho appeals examiner. At the continued hearing before the Idaho appeals examiner appellant was represented by counsel and testimony was received from several city employees. The appeals examiner granted appellant's claim for unemployment benefits, concluding that appellant's actions were negligent but did not constitute "misconduct" under the Idaho Employment Security Law.

Pursuant to I.C. § 72-1368(g), respondent city appealed this determination to the Idaho Industrial Commission and requested an opportunity to cross-examine appellant and contest the admissibility of portions of the recorded testimony before the Nebraska appeals referee. After several unsuccessful attempts to arrange a hearing date when appellant could be present, the case was submitted on the record from the proceedings below. The Industrial Commission found:


The claimant was employed as Burley Police Chief from May 3, 1974, to February 10, 1975, when he was discharged by the Mayor and City Council. The employer has furnished several reasons for discharging the claimant.


On a number of occasions during the claimant's term as Police Chief, the claimant left the city without informing any city official or his second in command of his whereabouts or when he expected to return. The claimant had been informed by the Mayor at the time he was employed that he was expected to give such information when he was to be out of the city.


When the claimant was first employed, he was informed of certain financial policies of the city. Any purchase of $100.00 or more was to be approved by the Mayor or City Clerk, and large expenditures were to be brought before the police committee. Invoices were to be presented to the council for payment at the next meeting after their receipt. The claimant did not comply with these policies in several instances.


In July, 1974, the claimant purchased various cartridges and projectiles costing approximately $2,300.00. This purchase was not approved by the Police Committee, nor did it become known to city officials until the claimant presented vouchers at the end of January, 1975. Likewise, the claimant had purchased uniforms in September, 1974, costing approximately $2,200.00 without approval of city officials. The invoice was not presented to the city officials until January 31, 1975.


In August, 1974, the claimant hired an employee under a program in cooperation with the College of Southern Idaho, which obligated the city to pay forty per cent of the individual's salary. City officials did not learn of this arrangement until February, 1975.


The claimant received permission to place his wife on the payroll for a two-week period during the summer of 1974. She remained on the payroll for two or three months, during which time the claimant ignored several requests of city officials that her employment be terminated.


In January, 1975, the claimant attempted to make certain promotions within the police department and announced the promotions to the press before presenting them to the City Council. The council ultimately disapproved the requested promotions.


On one occasion, while urging the city to make certain salary increases within the Police Department, he represented to the council that his department would have a surplus at the end of the year of $20,000.00. In fact, the budget was overspent at the end of the year by approximately $22,000.00. All of these factors contributed to a lack of confidence in the claimant by Burley city officials and resulted in his termination.

The Industrial Commission concluded that appellant was discharged for actions that violated known rules of employment and that showed an intentional disregard for the employer's interests. Appellant appeals pro se from the order of the Industrial Commission reversing the ruling of the appeals examiner and denying his claim for unemployment benefits.

Examination of this court's standard of review when witnesses do not appear before the Industrial Commission is essential for resolution of this appeal. This court's review of unemployment compensation cases is limited by the Idaho Constitution and prior court decisions to reviewing only questions of law. Idaho Const. art. 5, § 9; Hutchinson v. J. R. Simplot Co., 98 Idaho 346, 563 P.2d 404 (1977). Our review in cases involving factual disputes is restricted to determining whether findings of fact by the Industrial Commission are supported by substantial and competent evidence in the record. Hutchinson v. J. R. Simplot Co., supra; McIlwain v. Department of Employment, 98 Idaho 188, 560 P.2d 510 (1977); Avery v. B and B Rental Toilets, 97 Idaho 611, 549 P.2d 270 (1976); Totusek v. Department of Employment, 96 Idaho 699, 535 P.2d 672 (1975); Levesque v. Hi-Boy Meats, Inc., 95 Idaho 808, 520 P.2d 549 (1974); Heller v. International Transport, Inc., 94 Idaho 91, 481 P.2d 602 (1971). However, several prior decisions of this court have held that findings of fact by the Industrial Commission are not binding on appeal when the Commission does not hear and see witnesses. In these cases, the court has suggested that it will independently review the record to determine whether a claimant is eligible for benefits under the Employment Security Law. Clay v. Crooks Industries, 96 Idaho 378, 529 P.2d 774 (1974); Mata v. Broadmore Homes, 95 Idaho 873, 522 P.2d 586 (1974); Kirkbride v. Department of Employment, 91 Idaho 658, 429 P.2d 390 (1967); Custom Meat Packing Co. v. Martin, 85 Idaho 374, 379 P.2d 664 (1963); Wolfgram v. Employment Sec. Agency, 75 Idaho 389, 272 P.2d 699 (1954); Mandes v. Employment Sec. Agency, 74 Idaho 23, 255 P.2d 1049 (1953); Phipps v. Boise Street Car Co., 61 Idaho 740, 107 P.2d 148 (1940).

The justification for this expanded scope of appellate review has been based on the theory that, "When the trier or triers of facts does not or do not hear and see the witnesses face to face, the findings of such tribunal are not necessarily and ipso facto of any greater cogency than those of any other tribunal." Phipps v. Boise Street Car Co., 61 Idaho at 747, 107 P.2d at 151. However, since this court's adoption of an expanded scope of review in Phipps v. Boise Street Car Co., supra, the Idaho Employment Security Law has been extensively amended to provide an initial determination of eligibility for unemployment benefits, four levels of agency review and judicial review by this court. I.C. § 72-1368; Department of Employment v. St. Alphonsus Hospital, 96 Idaho 470, 531 P.2d 232 (1975). These statutes, together with the inappropriateness of judicial review of questions of fact, militates against assuming an expanded scope of appellate review in unemployment compensation cases involving factual disputes, regardless of whether witnesses have personally appeared before the Industrial Commission. The court therefore declines to independently adopt findings of fact at variance with those of the Industrial Commission where such findings are supported by substantial and competent evidence in the record. Prior decisions suggesting a contrary result are, to this extent, hereby expressly overruled.

The remaining issue is the sufficiency of the evidence in support of the findings of fact made by the Industrial Commission. Based upon a careful review of the entire record before the Industrial Commission it is the conclusion of the court that its findings of fact are supported by competent and substantial evidence and will not be disturbed on appeal....

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