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Patrick J. Mcguire v. Employment Development Department et al

August 22, 2012

PATRICK J. MCGUIRE, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
EMPLOYMENT DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



Trial Court: San Francisco City and County Superior Court Trial Judge: Hon. Loretta M. Giorgi (San Francisco City & County Super. Ct. No. CPF-10-510350)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margulies, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Plaintiff Patrick J. McGuire was awarded regular unemployment compensation benefits, but his claim for extended unemployment benefits, filed when his regular benefits were exhausted, was denied. Defendant Employment Development Department (Department) reasoned that McGuire's earnings during his "base period," although sufficient to qualify him for regular benefits, were insufficient to satisfy the different eligibility test applied for extended benefits.

The "base period" is a one-year period preceding the claimant's unemployment. By statute, the commencement date of the base period is determined from the week for which the claimant first files a claim for benefits. In denying McGuire's claim, the Department and defendant Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (Appeals Board) assumed the base period used to determine eligibility for extended benefits is the same base period used to determine regular benefits. The Appeals Board rejected McGuire's argument that an extended benefits base period should be determined from the timing of the extended benefits claim, rather than the timing of the claim for regular benefits.

We affirm the trial court's denial of McGuire's writ petition challenging the Appeals Board's decision, finding his argument incompatible with the statutory scheme of the extended benefits program.

I. BACKGROUND

In November 2008, McGuire filed a successful claim for unemployment compensation benefits. Pursuant to statute, the amount of his weekly benefit was determined on the basis of his highest quarterly earnings during a one-year period referred to as the "base period," which in turn was determined by the week for which he first filed a claim for benefits. (Unemp. Ins. Code,*fn1 §§ 1275, subd. (a), 1280, subd. (c).) Because McGuire filed in November 2008, his base period was July 2007 through June 2008. (§§ 1275, subd. (a), 1276.) During those months, McGuire was determined to have earned a total of $11,471.25, all of it in the final quarter. Pursuant to a statutory formula, these peak quarterly earnings entitled him to a weekly unemployment compensation benefit of $442. (§ 1280, subd. (c).)

When his regular benefits expired in February 2009, McGuire filed a claim for extended unemployment compensation benefits, but this claim was denied. The denial was based on section 4552, subdivision (e) (hereafter subdivision (e)), which governs eligibility for extended benefits. Under subdivision (e), a claimant may receive extended benefits only if, "in the base period in which he or she exhausted all rights to regular compensation," the claimant earned more than 40 times his or her weekly unemployment compensation benefit or 1.5 times his or her earnings during the highest quarter. In denying McGuire's claim, the Department assumed the phrase "the base period in which he or she exhausted all rights to regular compensation" refers to the same base period used to calculate regular benefits. Using this assumption, McGuire's total base period compensation of $11,471.25 constituted only 26 times his weekly benefit of $442. Further, because McGuire earned all of his base period income in a single quarter, his total base period earnings could not have exceeded 1.5 times his earnings in the highest quarter. Accordingly, he failed both of the eligibility tests of subdivision (e).

McGuire appealed the denial to the Appeals Board, contending the phrase "the base period in which he or she exhausted all rights to regular compensation" in subdivision (e) should not be read to refer to his original base period, determined by his regular benefits claim, but instead to a base period determined by the timing of his extended benefits claim.*fn2 Applying that rule, McGuire's extended benefits base period would have been October 2007 through September 2008. (§§ 1275, subd. (a), 1276.) At the administrative hearing, McGuire introduced evidence of earnings during the period July through September 2008 that were outside the original base period earnings calculation. Including these would have raised his total base period earnings to more than $18,000, thereby satisfying the requirement of base period earnings exceeding 40 times his weekly benefit and qualifying him for extended benefits.

The ALJ affirmed the Department's decision. Without expressly addressing McGuire's argument regarding the base period, the ALJ assumed the base period used in determining extended benefits eligibility is the same base period used for determining the amount of regular benefits. The Appeals Board summarily affirmed the ALJ's decision. McGuire's petition for writ of administrative mandamus in the superior court challenging the Appeals Board's decision was denied.

II. DISCUSSION

McGuire contends that under subdivision (e), a claimant's base period for purposes of determining eligibility for extended unemployment compensation benefits should be calculated from the timing of his or her extended benefits claim, rather than from the date of his or her regular unemployment compensation claim. Had the base period been determined in this manner, he argues, his earnings would have qualified him for extended benefits.

We review the Department's decision for abuse of discretion, which is demonstrated if the Department's decision was not supported by substantial evidence or the Department applied an improper legal standard or otherwise based its determination on an error of law. (Garamendi v. Golden Eagle Ins. Co. (2005) 128 Cal.App.4th 452, 466.) Because McGuire claims an error of law, our standard of review is de novo. (Gillis v. Dental Bd. of California (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 311, 319.)

"California's unemployment insurance program, as promulgated by the Unemployment Insurance Code, is part of a national system of reserves designed to provide insurance for workers 'unemployed through no fault of their own, and to reduce involuntary unemployment and the suffering caused thereby to a minimum.' [Citation.] . . . [ΒΆ] In order to receive benefits, an unemployment insurance claimant applies to the [Department], . . . which investigates the claim and makes an initial eligibility determination in a non-adversarial setting. [Citations.] The applicant for unemployment ...


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