This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Fadumo M. Dubet,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Filed December 19, 2000
Department of Economic Security
Agency File No. 454699
Kent E. Todd, Department of Economic Security, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Fadumo M. Dubet, 1415 East 22nd Street, Apt. 1008, Minneapolis, MN 55404 (relator pro se)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
Relator Fadumo M. Dubet challenges a ruling by a representative of respondent Commissioner of Economic Security. Relator contends that respondent erroneously determined that a prior ruling by an unemployment law judge concerning the duration of relator’s disability was binding in subsequent departmental administrative hearings. We affirm.
On July 4, 1999, relator established an account for unemployment compensation benefits. Due to a cardiac condition, relator was hospitalized from July 26, 1999, until August 2, 1999. She concedes that for a period of time following her hospital discharge, she was “on disability status and was ineligible for reemployment benefits.” In relevant part, she received unemployment compensation checks for the weeks ending July 24, 1999, September 25, 1999, and October 2, 1999.
Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 268.085, subd. 1(2) (Supp. 1999), which states that an applicant is eligible for benefits only if the applicant is “able to work,” the Minnesota Department of Economic Security (department) determined that its payment of benefits for the week ending July 24, 1999, constituted an overpayment to relator. Relator disagreed. Nevertheless, the department requested that relator return the amount of the overpayment. The matter was set for a contested hearing. Following a hearing (Hearing I) on October 20, 1999, an unemployment law judge (ULJ) found that relator was able to work from July 20, 1999, through July 25, 1999, and therefore relator was not overpaid as alleged. Based on a statement by relator’s doctor, however, the ULJ also determined that relator was not able to work from July 26, 1999, through September 30, 1999. The case determination was not appealed. Later, based on the ULJ findings in Hearing I, the department determined that because of relator’s inability to work, the payments sent to her for the weeks ending September 25 and October 2 were overpayments. The department requested that relator return the overpayment. Relator disputed the alleged overpayment.
A hearing (Hearing II) was held on January 31, 2000, to resolve the dispute. At Hearing II, the ULJ declined to hear evidence concerning the period during which relator was able to work. Rather, the ULJ relied on the Hearing I ruling that relator was unable to work from July 26, 1999, through September 30, 1999 and was therefore ineligible for benefits during that time. The commissioner’s representative agreed with the ULJ. This certiorari appeal followed.
In examining determinations by the department, our review is limited to whether the department kept within its jurisdiction, whether it proceeded on an erroneous theory of law, whether its action was arbitrary and unreasonable, and whether its decision lacks evidentiary support. Johnson v. Wilson & Co., 266 Minn. 500, 507, 124 N.W.2d 496, 501 (1963). In examining the factual findings of the commissioner’s representative, our standard of review is whether the evidence reasonably supports the decision of the commissioner’s representative. Tuff v. Knitcraft Corp., 526 N.W.2d 50, 51 (Minn. 1995). Although the commissioner’s factual findings are viewed in the light most favorable to the decision below, the commissioner’s conclusions of law are not binding. Soussi v. Blue & White Serv. Corp., 498 N.W.2d 316, 317-18 (Minn. App. 1993).
Relator argues that the commissioner’s representative erroneously applied collateral estoppel, precluding her from contesting the time period during which she was able to work. She contends that the purpose of Hearing I was limited to determining whether relator was able to work from July 20, 1999, until July 25, 1999. Hearing I, however, yielded, among other things, a determination of the entire period during which relator was able to work before and after receiving medical treatment. See Minn. R. 3310.2926 (1999) (“Decisions shall contain a statement of the issue involved, findings of fact, reasons for the decision which apply the law to the facts, and a decision. Decisions may contain additional material at the discretion of a referee.”).
In recognizing a ULJ’s prior decision as binding, the commissioner’s representative followed the statutory scheme. The applicable statute states:
No findings of fact or decision issued by a reemployment compensation judge or the commissioner may be held conclusive or binding or used as evidence in any separate or subsequent action in any other forum, except proceedings provided for under this chapter, regardless of whether the action involves the same or related parties or involves the same facts.
Minn. Stat. § 268.105, subd. 5(d) (Supp. 1999) (emphasis added). The statutory language contains an explicit exception that allows the prior decision of a ULJ to be used as evidence in subsequent proceedings before the department. See State v. Goodman, 206 Minn. 203, 207, 288 N.W. 157, 159 (1939) (observing that “[a]n exception in a statute exempts from its operation something that would otherwise be within it”). Moreover, the rules governing unemployment compensation hearings state that a ULJ may only consider evidence received into the record and may “exclude any evidence which is irrelevant, immaterial, unreliable, or unduly repetitious.” Minn. R. 3310.2922 (1999). Thus, the ULJ may exclude evidence of matters that have been determined or that are irrelevant to the case at bar.
We conclude that the commissioner’s representative correctly approved the ULJ’s decision not to receive evidence at Hearing II concerning the duration of relator’s disability; the prior administrative decision following Hearing I was dispositive.