Unemployment Appeals Reports 12/28/15

The Ninth District holds that ODJFS need not show intent to prove fraudulent misrepresentation, which can instead be proven by simply showing that (1) a claimant made a false statement, and (2) either knew or should have known that the statement was false.

Smith v. Ohio Dept. of Job & Family Servs, 2015 Ohio 5045 (9th Dist.).


December 7, 2015

Smith was subjected to two fraud investigations, with the first related to claims for benefits from July 14, 2012, to September 29, 2012. Smith acknowledged on October 29, 2013 that he under-reported his income, explaining that the inaccuracies may have been due to side effects from medications he was taking.  ODJFS made a non-fraud determination for this investigation, though it started another investigation for benefits received between September 30, 2012, and November 10, 2012.  After discovering that his income was also under-reported for this time period, it again asked Smith for a response.  When he did not respond, it automatically adjudicated the matter as fraud.  Smith claimed he never received the second notice.

The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) determined that Smith had under-reported his weekly income and engaged in fraudulent misrepresentation resulting in him being overpaid benefits.  He was ordered to repay $997 in over-payments, issued a penalty of $249.25, and found ineligible for 12 weeks worth of benefits if he were to refile within 6 years.  Smith proceeded through the unemployment appeal process with ODJFS and the Review Commission (UCRC), but was unsuccessful in getting the decision changed.

Smith appealed to court, which modified the decision by holding that the under-reporting was not fraudulent misrepresentation.  As a result, the trial court eliminated the penalties.  ODJFS appealed the trial court's decision to the 9th District, arguing that the trial court did not properly defer to the Review Commission decision.

The 9th District started its analysis by observing the following limited review authority:

This Court "may only reverse the Review Commission's decision if it is unlawful, unreasonable, or against the manifest weight of the evidence." "The fact that reasonable minds might reach different conclusions is not a basis for the reversal of the [Review Commission's] decision." "[T]he resolution of factual questions is chiefly within the Review Commission's scope of review," and this Court may not weigh the credibility of the witnesses. Instead, this Court must simply "ascertain whether evidence in the certified record supports the [Review Commission's] decision."

The 9th District adopted its reasoning in Barilla v. Director, Ohio Dept. of Job & Family Srvs., 2002-Ohio-5425 (9th Dist.) to hold that ODJFS need only show that (1) he made a false statement, and (2) either knew or should have known that the statement was false, to prove fraudulent misrepresentation.  It reiterated that Smith's intent was irrelevant.  The 9th District reasoned that there was clear evidence that Smith's reported earnings were not correct.  It also observed that all of the errors were to his benefit and the hearing officer could have chosen to disbelieve his testimony regarding the errors being the result of medications he was taking.  As a result, the 9th District concluded that the record supported the decision of the UCRC so that decision was affirmed while the trial court's decision was vacated.

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