Robinson v. Unemployment Sec. Bd. of Review

Decision Date27 May 1980
Citation181 Conn. 1,434 A.2d 293
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Paul E. Knag, Stamford, with whom were Richard W. Rutherford, New Canaan, and, on the brief, John F. Spindler and Clifford R. Oviatt, Stamford, for the appellant (defendant W. Whitney Stueck, Inc.).

Donald E. Wasik, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom, on the brief, was Carl R. Ajello, Atty. Gen., for the appellee (named defendant).


COTTER, Chief Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court affirming a grant of unemployment compensation benefits to the plaintiff, Jean T. Robinson, a former employee of the defendant W. Whitney Stueck, Inc. The facts found by the employment security appeals referee, which are not disputed, reveal that the plaintiff was employed for twelve years by W. Whitney Stueck, Inc., as a secretary-bookkeeper. After giving notice, she voluntarily terminated her employment on December 29, 1977, to accompany her husband to the state of Georgia, where he had been transferred by his employer. After arriving in Georgia, the plaintiff filed successfully for unemployment compensation benefits from the Connecticut unemployment compensation fund.

The employment security administrative appellate system established pursuant to General Statutes § 31-237b provides for an employment security board of review and a referee section which are separate and apart from the administrator of the unemployment act. The appeals referee in this case sustained the award of benefits, and the defendant board of review adopted its findings, affirmed the referee's decision and dismissed the employer's appeal. From the dismissal the employer, W. Whitney Stueck, Inc., appealed unsuccessfully to the Superior Court. See General Statutes § 31-249b. This court granted certification pursuant to General Statutes § 51-197b.

The plaintiff's eligibility to receive unemployment compensation benefits is governed by General Statutes § 31-236(2)(a). Section 31-236, which was amended by Public Acts 1977, No. 77-323, provides in pertinent part: "An individual shall be ineligible for benefits... (2)(a) if, in the opinion of the administrator, he has left suitable work voluntarily and without sufficient cause connected with his work, provided no individual shall be ineligible for benefits if he leaves suitable work for cause, including leaving as a result of changes in conditions created by his employer, or until such individual has earned at least ten times his benefit rate...." Prior to the passage of Public Act No. 77-323, § 31-236(2)(a), popularly known as Connecticut's "quits" law, provided in relevant part that an individual shall be ineligible for benefits: "during the week in which, in the opinion of the administrator, he has left suitable work voluntarily and without sufficient cause connected with his work ... and for the next four following weeks...." Therefore, under Connecticut's "quits" law prior to 1977, if no job related reason existed, a claimant was disqualified from receiving benefits regardless of how meritorious a personal reason he might have had for leaving but the extent of disqualification was limited to a four week waiting period after the week the claimant left work. Schettino v. Administrator, 138 Conn. 253, 258, 83 A.2d 217; Consiglio v. Administrator, 137 Conn. 693, 696, 81 A.2d 351; Wyka v. Colt's Patent Fire Arms Mfg. Co., 129 Conn. 71, 73-74, 26 A.2d 465.

The sole issue before this court, as a matter of first impression, is whether the 1977 amendment to Connecticut's "quits" law requires that a claimant be disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits for voluntarily leaving a suitable job for a personal reason such as, in this case, accompanying her husband out of state because of a transfer of his job. In other words, as a threshold matter, does eligibility for unemployment compensation under the present § 31-236(2)(a) of necessity depend upon an individual's quitting "for cause" related to his or her work.

In affirming the plaintiff's award of benefits, the appeals referee ruled that a voluntary departure from suitable work to accompany a spouse who accepted a job transfer was sufficient cause, under § 31-236(2)(a), for eligibility inasmuch as there was no evidence of any other reasonable alternative measure available to the plaintiff. The board of review concluded that the appeals referee's determination that the non-work-connected reason the plaintiff left her job was of such a nature as to be "for cause" within the intention of § 31-236(2)(a) was supported by the referee's findings of fact and legally consistent with those findings.

In appeals of this nature, the Superior Court does not try the matter de novo. It is bound by the findings of subordinate facts and the reasonable conclusions of fact made by the appeals referee, where, as is true here, the board of review adopted the findings and affirmed the decision of the referee. Oppenheimer v. Administrator, 170 Conn. 593, 596, 419 A.2d 337; Cervantes v. Administrator, 177 Conn. 132, 134, 411 A.2d 921; DaSilva v. Administrator, 175 Conn. 562, 564, 402 A.2d 755; Guevara v. Administrator, 172 Conn. 492, 495, 374 A.2d 1101; Bartlett v. Administrator, 142 Conn. 497, 505, 115 A.2d 671. The court's function is to determine, on the record, whether the referee acted unreasonably, arbitrarily or illegally. 1 Conclusions of law reached by the referee must stand if they resulted from a correct application of the law to the facts found and could reasonably and logically follow from such facts. DaSilva v. Administrator, supra; Guevara v. Administrator, supra.

Since statutory interpretation presents a question of law; Pascale v. Board of Zoning Appeals, 150 Conn. 113, 116, 186 A.2d 377; as a preliminary step in determining whether the Superior Court erred in deciding that the appeals referee's conclusion must stand, we note that a cardinal rule of statutory construction is that statutes are to be construed to give effect to the apparent intention of the law-making body. Farms Country Club, Inc. v. Carini, 172 Conn. 439, 444, 374 A.2d 1094; Jarvis Acres, Inc. v. Zoning Commission, 163 Conn. 41, 46, 301 A.2d 244; McAdams v. Barbieri, 143 Conn. 405, 416, 123 A.2d 182; 2A Sutherland, Statutory Construction (4th Ed.) § 45.05. If the language of the statute is clear, it is assumed that the intention is expressed by the words themselves and therefore there is no need to construe the statute; Anderson v. Ludgin, 175 Conn. 545, 552, 400 A.2d 712; for where the wording is plain, courts will not speculate as to any supposed intention because the question before a court then is not what the legislature actually intended but what intention it expressed by the words that it used. Doe v. Institute of Living, Inc., 175 Conn. 49, 68, 392 A.2d 491; Lee v. Lee, 145 Conn. 355, 358, 143 A.2d 154.

We do not find the language at issue in § 31-236(2)(a) to be clear on its face. The threshold question of whether the words "for cause" in the proviso added to former § 31-236(2)(a) by Public Act No. 77-323 encompass work-related cause cannot be resolved readily or with certainty from the language of § 31-236(2)(a) alone. 2 The statute does not provide a definition of the words "for cause." Further, consideration of the general principle that a statutory term is to be given the meaning it has "according to the commonly approved usage of the language"; General Statutes § 1-1(a); Connecticut Light & Power Co. v. Costle, 179 Conn. 415, 423, 426 A.2d 1324; International Business Machines Corporation v. Brown, 167 Conn. 123, 134, 355 A.2d 236; is not helpful within the framework of the circumstances of this case. The ordinary and customary meaning of the phrase "for cause" is "(for) a good or adequate reason"; Webster, Third New International Dictionary; in the context of § 31-236(2)(a), this definition does not elucidate whether a good or adequate reason need be one that is work-related.

Moreover, the lack of clarity of § 31-236(2)(a) on its face in regard to the question of whether "for cause" means work-connected cause is clearly illustrated by the problems created by construing the phrase in either manner. On the one hand, if the proviso added by Public Act No. 77-323 is construed to mean "for cause which need not be related to employment," then the effect of the proviso on the general rule that precedes it in § 31-236(2)(a) would be to eliminate the need for and make superfluous the phrase "connected with his work." This would violate the principle that, if possible, a statute should be construed so that no word, phrase, or clause will be rendered insignificant. Connecticut Light & Power Co. v. Costle, supra; State ex rel. Kennedy v. Frauwirth, 167 Conn. 165, 168, 355 A.2d 39. This same principle would be violated, however, if the phrase "for cause" were construed in the opposite manner, as for work-related cause, because a repetitious construction would result which would make the phrase "for cause" itself superfluous.

Thus, since the meaning of the phrase "for cause" in § 31-236(2)(a) cannot be deemed clear on the face of the statute, the provision must be construed by this court and it is well settled that such construction must be undertaken in light of its legislative history, its language, the purpose it is to serve, and the circumstances surrounding its enactment. Board of Education v. Connecticut State Board of Education, 179 Conn. 694, 700 n.3, 427 A.2d 846; Schwarzschild v. Binsse, 170 Conn. 212, 216, 365 A.2d 1195.

This court has taken judicial notice of statements made in the course of debate on the floor of the House and the Senate and has suggested that these discussions are strongly indicative, if not necessarily controlling, on the issue of legislative intent....

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