Verizon Services Corp. v. Board of Review of Workforce, 031318 WVSC, 17-0288

Court:Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia
Attorney:Mark H. Dellinger, Esq. Jessie F. Reckart, Esq. Bowles Rice LLP Charleston, West Virginia Attorneys for Petitioner Vincent Trivelli, Esq. The Law Office of Vincent Trivelli, PLLC Morgantown, West Virginia Attorney for Respondent Claimants
Judge Panel:JUSTICE WALKER, deeming herself disqualified, did not participate in the decision in this case. JUDGE JOSEPH K. REEDER, sitting by temporary assignment.
Opinion Judge:LOUGHRY, Justice.
Party Name:VERIZON SERVICES CORP., Petitioner Below, Petitioner, v. BOARD OF REVIEW OF WORKFORCE WEST VIRGINIA; JACK CANFIELD, CHAIRMAN, LESLIE R. FACEMEYER, MEMBER, AND GINO COLOMBO, MEMBER; RUSSELL L. FRY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF WORKFORCE WEST VIRGINIA; AND JASON E. ALLMAN, ET AL., CLAIMANTS, Respondents Below, Respondents.
Case Date:March 13, 2018
Docket Nº:17-0288
 
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VERIZON SERVICES CORP., Petitioner Below, Petitioner,

v.

BOARD OF REVIEW OF WORKFORCE WEST VIRGINIA; JACK CANFIELD, CHAIRMAN, LESLIE R. FACEMEYER, MEMBER, AND GINO COLOMBO, MEMBER; RUSSELL L. FRY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF WORKFORCE WEST VIRGINIA; AND JASON E. ALLMAN, ET AL., CLAIMANTS, Respondents Below, Respondents.

No. 17-0288

Supreme Court of West Virginia

March 13, 2018

          Submitted: January 23, 2018

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kanawha County Honorable Tod J. Kaufman, Judge Civil Action No. 16-AA-96

          Mark H. Dellinger, Esq. Jessie F. Reckart, Esq. Bowles Rice LLP Charleston, West Virginia Attorneys for Petitioner

          Vincent Trivelli, Esq. The Law Office of Vincent Trivelli, PLLC Morgantown, West Virginia Attorney for Respondent Claimants

          JUSTICE WALKER, deeming herself disqualified, did not participate in the decision in this case.

          JUDGE JOSEPH K. REEDER, sitting by temporary assignment.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. "The findings of fact of the Board of Review of [WorkForce West Virginia] are entitled to substantial deference unless a reviewing court believes the findings are clearly wrong. If the question on review is one purely of law, no deference is given and the standard of judicial review by the court is de novo." Syl. Pt. 3, Adkins v. Gatson, 192 W.Va. 561, 453 S.E.2d 395 (1994).

         2. "The term 'stoppage of work', within the meaning of the unemployment compensation statutes of this state, refers to the employer's operations rather than to a mere cessation of employment by claimants of benefits under the provisions of such statutes; and, in order that employees may be disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits because of 'a stoppage of work' resulting from a labor dispute, it must appear that there has resulted a substantial curtailment of the employer's normal operations." Syl. Pt. 2, Cumberland & Allegheny Gas Co. v. Hatcher, 147 W.Va. 630, 130 S.E.2d 115 (1963), overruled on other grounds by Lee-Norse Co. v. Rutledge, 170 W.Va. 162, 291 S.E.2d 477 (1982).

          3. "Where the language of a statute is clear and without ambiguity the plain meaning is to be accepted without resorting to the rules of interpretation." Syl. Pt. 2, State v. Elder, 152 W.Va. 571, 165 S.E.2d 108 (1968).

         4. "A cardinal rule of statutory construction is that significance and effect must, if possible, be given to every section, clause, word or part of the statute." Syl. Pt. 3, Meadows v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 207 W.Va. 203, 530 S.E.2d 676 (1999).

         5. "Each word of a statute should be given some effect and a statute must be construed in accordance with the import of its language. Undefined words and terms used in a legislative enactment will be given their common, ordinary and accepted meaning." Syl. Pt. 6, in part, State ex rel. Cohen v. Manchin, 175 W.Va. 525, 336 S.E.2d 171 (1984).

         6. The phrase "factory, establishment or other premises at which he or she was last employed" in West Virginia Code § 21A-6-3(4) (2012) means the distinct geographical location where the claimant was last employed prior to the labor dispute.

          OPINION

          LOUGHRY, Justice.

         The petitioner, Verizon Services Corp. ("Verizon"), appeals the February 22, 2017, final order of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County affirming a decision of the respondent, the Board of Review of Workforce West Virginia ("Board"), that granted twenty-five Verizon employees, respondents herein ("the claimants"1), unemployment compensation benefits for a period of time during which they were on strike. In this appeal, Verizon argues that the lower tribunals erred by not finding that a "stoppage of work" occurred at its Clarksburg facility during the strike which disqualified the claimants for unemployment compensation benefits pursuant to West Virginia Code § 21A-6-3(4) (2012).[2]Alternatively, Verizon argues that the lower tribunals erred by not making individualized determinations regarding whether each claimant was disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits under West Virginia Code §§ 21A-6-3(1) and 21A-6-3(3).3

         Having considered the parties' briefs and arguments, the submitted appendix record, and the applicable authorities, we find that the claimants were disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits under West Virginia Code § 21A-6-3(4). Accordingly, we reverse the circuit court's order and remand this case for entry of an order denying the claimants' applications for unemployment compensation benefits.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Verizon operates a call center in Clarksburg, West Virginia, through which it provides sales and services to customers of Verizon Communications, Inc. ("VCI") who live in other states. 4 In the spring of 2016, Verizon experienced a nationwide strike of its union employees. During the strike, the Clarksburg facility was closed.[5] The calls that would have normally been answered by the Clarksburg call center were automatically rerouted to Verizon call centers in other states. The claimants performed no work and did not receive any wages during the strike, which lasted from April 13, 2016, to May 21, 2016. They sought unemployment compensation benefits for this time period by filing applications with the Board.

         Verizon opposed the claimants' applications for unemployment compensation benefits. The matter was assigned to a labor dispute tribunal of the Board. Following an evidentiary hearing, the labor dispute tribunal ruled that the claimants were not disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits. After the decision was affirmed by the Board, Verizon appealed the ruling to the circuit court. By order entered February 22, 2017, the circuit court affirmed the Board's decision. This appeal followed.

         II. Standard of Review

         Our standard of review is set forth in syllabus point three of Adkins v. Gatson, 192 W.Va. 561, 453 S.E.2d 395 (1994), as follows: The findings of fact of the Board of Review of [WorkForce West Virginia] are entitled to substantial deference unless a reviewing court believes the findings are clearly wrong. If the question on review is one purely of law, no deference is given and the standard of judicial review by the court is de novo.

         In considering the issue presented, we are also mindful of the fact that "the burden of persuasion is upon the former employer to demonstrate by the preponderance of the evidence that the claimant's conduct falls within a disqualifying provision of the unemployment compensation statute." Peery v. Rutledge, 177 W.Va. 548, 552, 355 S.E.2d 41, 45 (1987). Guided by these precepts, we consider the parties' arguments.

         III. Discussion

         Whether the claimants were entitled to collect unemployment compensation benefits while on strike in 2016 is governed by West Virginia Code § 21A-6-3 (2012).[6] With regard to a strike or labor dispute, the statute provided, in pertinent part: Upon the determination of the facts by the commissioner, an individual is disqualified for benefits:

. . . .

(4) For a week in which his or her total or partial unemployment is due to a stoppage of work which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment or other premises at which he or she was last employed[.]

W.Va. Code § 21A-6-3(4). It was established long ago that the phrase "stoppage of work" in this context refers to the employer's operations rather than the employees' conduct. As this Court held in syllabus point two of Cumberland & Allegheny Gas Co. v. Hatcher, 147 W.Va. 630, 130 S.E.2d 115(1963), overruled on other grounds by Lee-Norse Co. v. Rutledge, 170 W.Va. 162, 291 S.E.2d 477 (1982): The term "stoppage of work", within the meaning of ...

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