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Relator v. Department of Employment & Economic Development

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 2, 2013

Heather J. Swanson, Relator,
Department of Employment & Economic Development, Respondent.


Department of Employment & Economic Development File No. 30418384

Heather J. Swanson, Farmington, Minnesota (pro se relator)

Lee B. Nelson, Department of Employment & Economic Development, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent department)

Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.


Relator Heather Swanson challenges the unemployment-law judge's decision that she is ineligible to receive unemployment benefits. She argues that for purposes of determining benefits eligibility her fall-semester class attendance did not make her unavailable for suitable employment, and that her part-time class schedule during the summer semester was subject to a previous final determination of eligibility made by respondent Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. We affirm the determination that relator is unavailable for suitable employment during the fall semester because substantial evidence supports that determination. We reverse and remand the determination of ineligibility as to the summer-semester period because a portion of the summer semester was included in a prior final determination of eligibility, the summer semester was not included in the eligibility period questioned by respondent, and the record lacks substantial evidence to support the unemployment-law judge's decision as to that period.


Relator worked full-time as an office specialist from November 2011 until June 3, 2012, when she was laid off during a reduction in force. She immediately signed up for summer-semester college classes, which ran from June 2012 to the first week of August 2012. Relator took a math class from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and another online class. Based on information she submitted, including her summer-semester schedule, respondent issued a determination on June 21, 2012, that relator was eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Relator signed up for five fall-semester classes, but she withdrew from two classes because she needed to find a job to support her family. In an undated request-for-information form, which the unemployment-law judge (ULJ) found was "from early November 2012, " relator reported that she was looking for part-time work, explaining that she had "filed for [d]isability." The information form included the question, "Are you willing to quit, rearrange, or get excused from classes, in order to accept a suitable job?, " and relator answered "No, " although she further stated that she was classified as a full-time student and that her schooling did not affect her ability to look for or accept a job. This information led to a department determination that relator was ineligible for unemployment benefits beginning on August 27, 2012. Relator challenged the ineligibility determination, and the case proceeded to an evidentiary hearing before the ULJ on November 30, 2012.

At the evidentiary hearing, the ULJ initially framed the issue as whether relator was available for employment during the period August 27, 2012, to the date of the hearing, November 30, 2012. But the ULJ stated that because relator took some classes during the summer, "that could raise another issue of your availability [for suitable employment] in the summer." The ULJ included the summer period within the scope of the evidentiary hearing.

At the hearing, relator testified that her school schedule did not conflict with her ability to accept employment and that she would "quit school" if she were offered a job that conflicted with her class schedule. She also stated that she intended to quit school after the fall semester, stating, "I need to find a job." With regard to how summer classes affected her ability to work, relator said that she would have quit those classes "in a heartbeat" in order to accept employment. The ULJ asked relator to explain her reason for answering "no" in the November request-for-information form about whether she would quit classes in order to accept work, and relator said:

I didn't intentionally do it. I would not have ever intentionally done that. It's one of those, you know when you do your questions they're yes, no boxes. And I must have accidentally hit no and just proceeded without double checking it. Believe me I'll never do it again. Because I will take any job I can. I ...

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