Department of Employment and Economic Development File No. 29703100-5
Jason Comstock, Rochester, Minnesota (pro se relator)
Seneca Foods Corporation, Marion, New York (respondent)
Lee B. Nelson, Colleen Timmer, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent Department of Employment and Economic Development)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Connolly, Judge; and Worke, Judge.
Relator challenges the order of an unemployment-law judge affirming the dismissal of relator's appeal from an initial determination of ineligibility for unemployment benefits for failure to participate in the hearing. We affirm.
Relator Jason Comstock was terminated from his employment with respondent Seneca Foods Corporation for falsifying a doctor's note. Comstock applied for unemployment benefits, and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) denied the application after concluding that he was terminated for employment misconduct. Comstock appealed the determination of ineligibility and an evidentiary hearing was scheduled.
On the date of the scheduled hearing, the unemployment-law judge (ULJ) attempted multiple times over the course of 15 minutes after the scheduled beginning of the hearing to reach Comstock at the telephone number that Comstock had supplied to DEED. Comstock did not answer the telephone or respond to the ULJ's messages, and Comstock did not contact DEED. After failing to contact Comstock, the ULJ issued an order dismissing his appeal because Comstock "failed to personally participate in the hearing" and "is considered to have failed to exhaust available administrative remedies."
Three days later, Comstock appealed the dismissal by filing a request for reconsideration that stated that he missed the call because of a medical issue involving his mother. The ULJ concluded that this constituted a "good cause" for missing the hearing. The ULJ issued an order setting aside the original dismissal and scheduled a second evidentiary hearing.
The ULJ was able to reach both Comstock and the human resources manager at Seneca Foods at the beginning of the second evidentiary hearing. The ULJ began the hearing by explaining the process for the hearing, telling the parties that he would go through the procedural parts of the hearing first and would then take testimony from each party. The parties would then be able to add anything they felt was missed, cross-examine and be cross-examined by the other party, submit rebuttal testimony, and make an optional closing statement at the end of the hearing. Comstock and the human resources manager both indicated that they understood this process.
The ULJ requested preliminary information from Comstock, including his name and address. The ULJ then identified the exhibits and began taking testimony from the human resources manager. Partway through the human resource manager's testimony, Comstock disconnected from the phone call. The ULJ made multiple attempts to contact Comstock in the 15 minutes following his disconnection from the call. The ULJ left a message every time and told Comstock that failure to call and explain why he dropped off the phone call ...