City of Kansas City v. Arthur, No. WD

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM
Citation998 S.W.2d 870
Decision Date31 August 1999
Docket NumberNo. WD
PartiesCITY OF KANSAS CITY, Missouri, Appellant, v. Joseph ARTHUR, and Division of Employment Security, Respondents. 56537.

Page 870

998 S.W.2d 870
CITY OF KANSAS CITY, Missouri, Appellant,
v.
Joseph ARTHUR, and Division of Employment Security, Respondents.
No. WD 56537.
Missouri Court of Appeals,
Western District.
Submitted May 18, 1999.
Decided Aug. 31, 1999.

Page 871

Margaret S. Moran, Government Counsel, Kansas City, for Appellant.

John F. Wilcox, Sharon A. Willis, Kansas City, for Respondent Arthur.

Before HOWARD, P.J.; ULRICH and SMART, JJ.

PER CURIAM.

The city of Kansas City, Missouri, ("City") terminated Joseph Arthur's employment because it found that he did not comply with the express requirement of the City Charter that employees reside within the boundaries of the City. The Labor and Industrial Relations Commission ("Commission") reversed an appeals tribunal decision which held that Arthur was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. The Commission found that the City did not meet its burden of proving that Arthur's employment was terminated because of misconduct associated with his employment. The City appeals.

The judgment of the Commission is reversed.

Background

Kansas City, Mo., Code of Ordinances, § 2-972 (1994) requires:

(4) Residence and domicile as used in this section shall mean principal place of residence and domicile within the city limits.

(5) Any employee who has established a residence and domicile within the city limits and who subsequently moves his place of residence and domicile outside the city limits shall automatically forfeit his position of employment with the city.

(6) Nonelected employees of the city failing to comply with the provisions of this section will be dismissed from the municipal service forthwith and automatically removed from the payroll by the human resources director....

In 1981, Joseph Arthur began working for the City as a carpenter. When Arthur began working for the City, he resided in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1989, Arthur purchased a house in Lee's Summit, Missouri. He and his family continued to reside in Kansas City, at his parents' house, while the Arthurs' new house was being remodeled. In 1991, Arthur's wife and son moved into the house in Lee's Summit. Arthur represented to the City that he continued to stay at his parents' house, but that he often visited his family in Lee's Summit.

In 1993, the City investigated Arthur's residency. Arthur persuaded the City that he really resided in Kansas City although his family resided in Lee's Summit, by representing that he was in the process of a divorce. In 1997, the City investigated Arthur's residency again. The private investigator determined that Arthur spent ninety percent of his time at his Lee's Summit address.

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The City held a predetermination hearing recommending that Arthur's employment with the City be terminated. On January 22, 1998, Arthur was suspended without pay, and on February 18, 1998, he was fired for failing to comply with the City's residency requirement. Arthur subsequently filed for unemployment benefits. A deputy with the Division of Employment Security found that Arthur was not entitled to benefits, noting that Arthur "was discharged because he violated his employer's residency policy." Based on that finding, the deputy determined that Arthur was disqualified for six weeks because he was discharged by the City on February 12, 1998 for misconduct connected with work.

In modifying the deputy's determination, the appeals tribunal stated:

In the present case, the claimant became unemployed because he failed to prove to the satisfaction of the employer that he maintained a residence and domicile within the city limits of Kansas City, Missouri, as required by city ordinance. The city ordinance provides that, if an employee fails to maintain a residence and domicile within the city limits, he or she shall forfeit his or her job....

The claimant had both actual and constructive knowledge that his job would be forfeited if he did not maintain a residence and domicile in Kansas City, Missouri. By voluntarily moving from Kansas City, Missouri to Lee's Summit, Missouri, the claimant forfeited his job. It is concluded that the claimant voluntarily left his work on January 22, 1998. His leaving work was not for any good cause attributable to his work or to his employer. It is concluded that the claimant voluntarily left work on January 22, 1998, without good cause attributable to his work or to his employer.

Arthur appealed the appeals tribunal's decision to the Commission. On appeal, the Commission addressed the following issues: (1) whether the appeals tribunal was correct that Arthur voluntarily left his employment as opposed to being terminated; and (2) if Arthur voluntarily left his employment, whether it was for good cause attributable to the City; and (3) if Arthur's employment was terminated, whether it was for misconduct connected with his work.

The Commission found that the City terminated Arthur's employment, disagreeing with the appeals tribunal, which concluded that Arthur voluntarily left his employment. The Commission then looked at the issue of misconduct. Although the Commission found that Arthur knowingly violated the City's residence requirement and determined that the City's termination of his employment was justified, the Commission did not believe that Arthur's violation of the City's residency requirement constituted misconduct connected with his work. The Commission found that "the rule in question [did] not concern job performance but suitability for employment.... Claimant was not terminated for any wanton or wilful act connected with the performance of his work." The Commission reversed the appeals tribunal's decision and concluded that Arthur was not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.

The City appeals, claiming that the Commission erred in reversing the decision of the appeals tribunal. The City claims that the Commission erred in holding that Arthur's knowing violation of the City's residency requirement was not misconduct connected with his work and that he was not disqualified from receiving benefits. The City does not challenge the Commission's determination that the City terminated Arthur.

Standard of Review

Our review of the Commission's decision is governed by Article 5, § 18 of the Missouri Constitution, which gives to the court the power to review administrative decisions to determine whether such decisions

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are authorized by law. See also § 288.210, RSMo. Supp.1998. Our jurisdiction is limited to questions of law. Id.

This court is not bound by the Commission's conclusions of law or the Commission's application of law to the facts. Division of Employment Sec. v. Taney County Dist. R-III, 922 S.W.2d 391, 393 (Mo. banc 1996). Where the Commission's decision involves a question of law, we review the issue independently. George-Brewer v. Pen Mar Southwest, 980 S.W.2d 147, 149 (Mo.App.1998). Whether an employee's actions constitute misconduct associated with his work is a question of law. Sain v. Labor & Indus. Rel. Comm'n, 564 S.W.2d 59, 61 (Mo.App.1978). As such, we are not bound by the Commission's determination on this issue.

Section 288.020, RSMo 1994, directs that unemployment security law be liberally construed so as to further the public policy of Missouri in setting aside unemployment reserves to benefit persons unemployed through no fault of their own. Sokol v. Labor & Indus. Rel. Comm'n, 946 S.W.2d 20, 23 (Mo.App.1997). In keeping with this policy, disqualifying provisions in the law are strictly construed against the disallowance of benefits. Missouri Div. of Employment Sec. v. Labor & Indus. Rel. Comm'n, 651 S.W.2d 145, 148 (Mo. banc 1983).

Misconduct

In the present case, the Commission found that although Arthur's employment with the City was terminated for violating the...

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