Yardville Supply Co. v. Board of Review, Dept. of Labor

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Writing for the CourtGARIBALDI; O'HERN; STEIN
Citation114 N.J. 371,554 A.2d 1337
PartiesYARDVILLE SUPPLY COMPANY, Appellant, v. BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Respondent.
Decision Date23 March 1989

Page 371

114 N.J. 371
554 A.2d 1337
YARDVILLE SUPPLY COMPANY, Appellant,
v.
BOARD OF REVIEW, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Respondent.
Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Argued Nov. 29, 1988.
Decided March 23, 1989.

Page 372

Charles J. Casale, Jr., for appellant (Charles J. Casale, atty., Louis J. DeMille, Jr., Trenton, on the brief).

Karen L. Hershey, Deputy Atty. Gen., for respondent (Cary Edwards, Atty. Gen., atty.).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by

GARIBALDI, J.

Ernest Sparks, a truck driver, lost his job after his driving privileges were suspended due to his conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI). He sought and was granted unemployment compensation benefits. We hold that he should have been disqualified from collecting benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) because he "left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work."

Page 373

On December 28, 1984, Ernest Sparks was arrested for DWI. His arrest occurred during non-working hours. At the time Sparks was employed by the Yardville Supply Company as a tractor-trailer driver, although on occasion he worked "in the yard". Sparks promptly notified Yardville of the DWI charges pending against him. He was told that an effort would be made to assign him to non-driving duties if his driving privileges were ultimately suspended.

Subsequently, Sparks' driver's license was suspended for a period of six months. Sparks immediately informed Yardville of the suspension and inquired into the possibility of continuing to work at Yardville in a non-driving capacity. He was informed that no other work was available.

Sparks filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Department of Labor, Division of Unemployment and Disability Insurance. The claim was approved. Yardville appealed, and after a hearing, the [554 A.2d 1338] Appeals Examiner affirmed the determination of eligibility, finding that Sparks had not "left work voluntarily" under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). In addition, he found that Sparks should not be disqualified for "misconduct connected with the work" under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(b) 1. The Board of Review upheld this decision.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Board's decision in Yardville v. Board of Review, 222 N.J.Super. 201, 536 A.2d 324 (1988). It held that Sparks' loss of employment stemming from the suspension of his driving privileges does not constitute a voluntary quit under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). While recognizing that Sparks' off-duty traffic infraction may have been voluntarily committed, the court nevertheless found that it is "contrary to both logic and experience to conclude that voluntary commission of the

Page 374

offense is equatable with a voluntary separation from employment." Id. at 205, 536 A.2d 324. The court also held that Sparks could not be disqualified from receiving benefits for "misconduct connected with the work" under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(b), because his off-duty conduct, while blameworthy, did not evince "a deliberate, willful, or wanton disregard of the employer's interest." Ibid. (quoting Continental Oil Co. v. Board of Review, 568 P.2d 727, 731 (Utah 1977)). We granted Yardville's petition for certification. 111 N.J. 583, 546 A.2d 509 (1988).
I

New Jersey's Unemployment Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 43:21-1 to -56, (the Act), was enacted in 1936. The public policy behind the Act is to afford protection against the hazards of economic insecurity due to involuntary unemployment. N.J.S.A. 43:21-2 (emphasis added). See Krauss v. A. & M. Karagheusian, 13 N.J. 447, 455, 100 A.2d 277 (1953); Schock v. Board of Review, Employment Sec., 89 N.J.Super. 118, 125, 214 A.2d 40 (App.Div. 1965), aff'd, 48 N.J. 121, 223 A.2d 633 (1966). In order to further its remedial and beneficial purposes, the law is to be construed liberally in favor of allowance of benefits. Nonetheless, it is also important to preserve the fund against claims by those not intended to share in its benefits. The basic policy of the law is advanced as well when benefits are denied in improper cases as when they are allowed in proper cases. Krauss, supra, 13 N.J. at 455-56, 100 A.2d 277; Schock, supra, 89 N.J.Super. at 125, 214 A.2d 40.

Prior to 1961 the Act did not disqualify claimants who "left work voluntarily for good cause" from receiving unemployment benefits, regardless of whether good cause was attributable to work. In 1961, however, the Legislature amended N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) to provide that an individual shall be disqualified from receiving benefits

Page 375

(a) For the week in which the individual has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work, and for each week thereafter until the individual becomes reemployed and works four weeks in employment, which may include employment for the federal government, and has earned in employment at least six times the individual's weekly benefit rate, as determined in each case. (emphasis supplied). 2

The issue here is whether a truck driver whose decision to drink and drive resulted in the loss of his driver's license, a prerequisite to his employment, has left work voluntarily without good cause pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). We hold that he has. Because of his actions, Sparks is no longer able to do the job that he was hired to do. Yardville had no control over Sparks' reckless decision to gamble his driver's license. It would be unfair to make Yardville bear the economic cost of Sparks' misconduct.

[554 A.2d 1339] Sparks is not the sort of "involuntarily" unemployed worker that the Act is designed to protect. The policy underlying the Act is summed up in Schock, supra, 89 N.J.Super. at 125, 214 A.2d 40, quoting Battaglia v. Board of Review, 14 N.J.Super. 24, 27, 81 A.2d 186 (App.Div.1951):

It is not every case of unemployment which entitles an unemployed person to benefits. The purpose of the act is to provide some income for the worker earning nothing, because he is out of work through no fault or act of his own, until he can find employment or for the period stated in the statute, if he continues to be unemployed. (Emphasis added)

Accord Medwick v. Board of Review, 69 N.J.Super. 338, 340, 174 A.2d 251 (App.Div.1961). To allow Sparks to recover would subvert the expressed policy of providing aid to those who are unemployed "through no fault or act of [their] own " (emphasis added). Schock, supra, 89 N.J.Super. at 125, 214 A.2d 40.

Our decision is supported by Self v. Board of Review, 91 N.J. 453, 453 A.2d 170 (1982), the leading case to address the issue of what constitutes a voluntary quit under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a). In Self we concluded that a claimant who is no longer able to work due to transportation difficulties has "left work voluntarily without good cause." Moreover, in Self we stated that in general an employee is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a) if he makes a "departure not attributable

Page 376

to work." Id. at 457, 453 A.2d 170. The only recognized exception to this rule exists where an employee, unable to work because of illness, nevertheless makes an attempt to protect his or her employment. Self, supra, 91 N.J. at 457, 453 A.2d 170; DeLorenzo v. Board of Review, 54 N.J. 361, 363, 255 A.2d 248 (1969). Sparks, however, does not allege that his inability to work is the result of illness.

If anything, Sparks has a weaker claim for receiving benefits than did the claimants in Self, who suddenly and involuntarily found themselves without any means of commuting to work. By contrast, Sparks' unemployment is traceable directly to conduct for which he is responsible: his decision to drink and drive, made despite the knowledge that by risking his driving privileges he was endangering his livelihood as a truck driver.

Inexplicably, neither the dissent nor the Appellate Division cite Self. Instead, the Appellate Division relied on Means v. Board of Review, 172 N.J.Super. 465, 412 A.2d 1053 (App.Div.), certif. den., 84 N.J. 451, 420 A.2d 348 (1980), decided prior to Self. Such reliance is misplaced. In Means the court specifically stated that it is not "apposite" to equate the case of a nurse who...

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