Wilson v. Employment Sec. Commission, 6962

Citation1963 NMSC 85, 389 P.2d 855, 74 N.M. 3
Case DateApril 29, 1963
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico

Smith, Kiker & Kitts, Richard E. Ransom, Albuquerque, for appellee Grinslade.

Foy & Vesely, Silver City, for appellee Wilson.

Gilbert, White & Gilbert, Santa Fe, J. Wayne Woodbury, Silver City, for appellee Croom.

A. M. Frazier, Albuquerque, for Employment Security Commission.

Poole & Poole, Albuquerque, Shantz & Dickson, Silver City, for Kennecott Copper Corp.

NOBLE, Justice.

Employment Security Commission (hereafter called the Commission) and Kennecott Copper Corporation (hereafter called Kennecott) have appealed from three judgments of the district court of Grant County reversing decisions of the Commission which had denied unemployment benefits to 525 claimants who were or had been employees of Kennecott. The claims were grouped by the unions of which the claimants were members, were removed for review to the district court by three writs of certiorari and consolidated there for hearing. The appeals from the three judgments of the district court are consolidated in this court into a single appeal.

The claims for unemployment compensation arose by reason of a dispute between International Union of Mine-Mill and Smelter Workers (hereafter called Mine-Milf) and Kennecott, which resulted in a work stoppage at Kennecott because of a strike commenced by Mine-Mill at the morning shift on August 7, 1959. The claims were denied by the Commission upon the ground that claimants were disqualified for benefits by virtue of Sec. 59-9-5(d), N.M.S.A.1953. Upon review of the Commission's decisions, the district court found that the Commission's findings of fact, conclusions of law and decisions in Cause No. 15220 were 'contrary to the weight of evidence, unwarranted and unsupported by the evidence.' The court then made its own independent findings of fact and conclusions of law and entered its judgment reversing those of the Commission.

The procedure for review of decisions of the Commission is governed by Sec. 59-9-6(h) and (i), N.M.S.A.1953, the pertinent portion of which reads:

'The decision of the commission upon any disputed matter decided by it may be reviewed both upon the law and the facts by the district court of the county wherein the person seeking the review resides upon certiorari.'

and by rule 81(c)(4) (Sec. 21-1-1(81)(c)(4)):

'The district court shall try and determine such cause upon the evidence legally introduced at the hearing before said employment security commission presented by the parties to said court. After hearing said cause the court shall make findings of fact and conclusions of law and enter judgment therein upon the merits.'

The parties, however, are in disagreement as to the scope of review by the district court, announced in Prestridge Lumber Co. v. Employment Security Commission, 50 N.M. 309, 176 P.2d 190. After discussing both the statute and the rules, this court there said:

'* * * We take this [the statute and rule] to mean the district court shall make its own findings of fact, after a review of the evidence. It does not mean, necessarily, that the district court must ignore the findings of the Commission. It may give them some weight and should follow the Commission's findings in making its own, save where the evidence clearly proponderates against them * * * [citing cases]. In the last analysis, however, the responsibility of making correct findings rests with the district court and it is not to be hampered or embarrassed in the performance of this duty by the findings of the Commission.'

It is Kennecott's position that the district court is required to adopt the Commission's findings as its own unless such findings do not have substantial support in the evidence. Appellees, on the contrary, find in the language of Prestridge authority for the district court to entirely disregard the Commission's findings and to make its own based upon the legal evidence from the record. Appellants assert that by our later decisions in Johnson v. Sanchez, 67 N.M. 41, 351 P.2d 449, and Yarbrough v. Montoya, 54 N.M. 91, 214 P.2d 769, we held that a review of an administrative decision is constitutionally limited to whether the decision is arbitrary and capricious and supported by substantial evidence. We do not construe our decisions as limiting the quantum of the evidence reviewed to meet constitutional requirements. Each of those decisions construed different statutes and is to be limited to the particular statute being considered. Furthermore, in each of them, we were chiefly concerned with whether new or additional evidence might be accepted on review and in each case we were additionally concerned with a review of the discretionary action of an administrative officer. The review of a decision of the Employment Security Commission more nearly resembles that from the State Corporation Commission, but there are dissimilarities which make our decision in Transcontinental Bus System, Inc. v. State Corporation Commission, 56 N.M. 158, 241 P.2d 829, not controlling. The district court, in reviewing an Unemployment Security Commission decision unlike that from the Corporation Commission, is governed by specific rules adopted and promulgated by this court.

It is true that the majority of both State and Federal courts have adopted the substantial evidence rule for review of administrative agency decisions, 4 Davis, Administrative Law, Sec. 29.01, and we have adopted that view in construing the review provisions applicable to other administrative agencies. Continental Oil Co. v. Oil Conservation Commission, 70 N.M. 310, 373 [74 N.M. 8] P.2d 809. The statute, Sec. 59-9-6(h) and (i), N.M.S.A.1953, and rule 81(c)(4) requires the district court to review a challenged decision of the Employment Security Commission to determine whether it is lawful. In so determining, the reviewing court must determine whether the Commission's findings of fact-are supported by substantial evidence. The trial court shall adopt as its own such of the Commission's findings of fact as it determines to be supported by substantial evidence and shall make such conclusions of law and decision as lawfully follow therefrom. If the district court determines that the legal evidence before the Commission fails to substantially support such findings or decision, then the district court shall make its own findings of fact, conclusions of law and decision based only upon the legal evidence before the Commission. If Prestridge conflicts with what we have said, then it is modified to conform herewith.

Much confusion has arisen in reviewing decisions of an inferior court or tribunal as to what is meant by the term 'substantial evidence.' It means more than merely any evidence and more than a scintilla of evidence and contemplates such relevant legal evidence as a reasonable person might accept as sufficient to support a conclusion. McCague v. New York C. & St. L. R. Co., 225 Ind. 83, 71 N.E.2d 569, 73 N.E.2d 48; Offutt v. World's Columbian Exposition Co., 175 Ill. 472, 474, 51 N.E. 651, 652; State v. Gregory, 339 Mo. 133, 96 S.W.2d 47. This court has said that evidence is substantial if reasonable men all agree, or if they may fairly differ, as to whether it established such fact. Marchbanks v. McCullough, 47 N.M. 13, 132 P.2d 426; Brown v. Cobb, 53 N.M. 169, 204 P.2d 264. Substantial evidence may also be stated as in James v. Bailey Reynolds Chandelier Co., 325 Mo. 1054, 30 S.W.2d 118, 123:

'Whether the evidence in a given case is sufficient to support the finding of the jury, when taken and considered in the fashion in which it must be on demurrer, depends on whether it is sufficient to establish with reasonable certainty in the minds of persons of ordinary and average intelligence the existence of the facts on which the finding is necessarily based.'

In any event, the district court in this case determined that the Commission's findings, conclusions and decisions were unsupported by substantial evidence. The Commission based its denial of benefits to the claimants upon a finding that they were disqualified to receive unemployment benefits under the provisions of Sec. 59-9-5(d), N.M.S.A.1953, the pertinent portions of which provide:

'59-9-5. Disqualification for benefits.--An individual shall be disqualified for benefits----

* * *

* * *

(d) For any week with respect to which the commission finds that his 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 is or was last employed; Provided, that this subsection shall not apply if it is shown to the satisfaction of the commission that----

(1) He is not participating in or directly interested in the labor dispute which caused the stoppage of work; and

(2) He does not belong to a grade or class of workers of which, immediately before the commencement of the stoppage, there were members employed at the premises at which the stoppage occurs, any of whom are participating in or directly interested in the dispute; * * *.'

It is, of course, not questioned but that the stoppage of work, resulting in claimants' unemployment, was caused by a labor dispute, nor that the statute casts the burden upon the claimant to escape the disqualification by showing their eligibility under both (1) and (2) above. 28 A.L.R.2d 287, 331; Haggart, Unemployment Compensation During Labor Disputes, 37 Neb.L.Rev. 668, 680.

Appellants first urge that by failing to cross picket lines, claimants either voluntarily left work without good cause or participated in the Mine-Mill labor dispute, and are ineligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Kennecott employed some 1500 persons, more than...

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