Minnesota Court of Appeals: Fay v. Dept. of Employment & Economic Development

— N.W.2d — (Minn. Ct. App. 2015)

Defining “Good Cause” for Failing to Participate in Reemployment Assistance

unemployment_compensationPatrick Fay was determined to be eligible for unemployment benefits, but as a requirement to receiving benefits he was to attend a reemployment assistance services appointment. As way of background, in Minnesota, reemployment programs are available to those who require training to be able to become “employable” again. If one is enrolled in a reemployment training program they do not have to accept full time employment and can continue to receive unemployment benefits.

Fay was mailed a notice regarding this reemployment assistance appointment and the notice also included this warning: “failure to attend will result in a delay or denial of your unemployment benefits.” Fay missed the meeting. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (“DEED”) determined that Fay was ineligible for unemployment benefits during the week he missed the meeting. Fay appealed and during a hearing testified that he “put [the meeting] in [his] schedule and…simply missed it.” Fay provided no other facts as to why he missed the meeting. He did, however, attend a subsequent meeting. The unemployment law judge found Fay did not have “good cause” to miss the meeting. Fay appealed to the Court of Appeals pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 268.105, subd. 7(a)(2014).

Fay’s main argument to the Court of Appeals was that he should be eligible for benefits because he was “distracted by other priorities and forgot about the meeting.” In response, DEED argued that good cause must be shown for missing a meeting as stated in Minn. Stat. § 268.085, subd. 1(7). Section 268.085, subd. 1(7) states,

An applicant may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits for any week if…the applicant has been participating in reemployment assistance services, such as job search and resume writing classes, if the applicant has been determined in need of reemployment assistance services by the commissioner, unless the applicant has good cause for failing to participate.

(Emphasis added). Unfortunately, the statute does not define what is considered “good cause,” which is why this is a case of first impression and therefore a published Minnesota Court of Appeals decision.

First, the court found that the statute was ambiguous because what constitutes “good cause” is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. The examples cited of what “good cause” could mean were “medical emergency, family emergency, or vehicle malfunction.” Finding that the statute was ambiguous, the court then invokes the doctrine of in pari material, which is “a tool of statutory interpretation that allows two statutes with common purposes and subject matter to be construed together to determine the meaning of ambiguous statutory language.”

Using this doctrine, the court turns to the definition of “good cause” in Minn. Stat. § 268.105 (2014), which is “a reason that would have prevented a reasonable person acting with due diligence from participating in the hearing.” The court noted that the shared purpose of the two statutes was the adequate requiring of an applicant to show good cause for missing a required hearing/meeting. The court looks to other times when “good cause” is defined in Chapter 268, however, it dismisses those definitions since the statute sections in which the definition appears do not share the “common purpose” that § 268.105 and § 268.085 share.

In sum, the court adopted the definition of “good cause” found in § 268.105 and under that definition affirmed the unemployment law judge’s ruling that Fay’s reasoning for missing the meeting did not amount to “good cause.”