This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C6-00-895

 

 

Charles W. Benson,

Relator,

 

vs.

 

Commissioner of Economic Security,

Respondent.

 

 

Filed January 16, 2001

Affirmed

Toussaint, Chief Judge

 

Department of Economic Security

File No. 411099

 

 

Charles W. Benson, 23230 Melanie Trail, Scandia, MN 55073 (relator pro se)

 

Kent E. Todd, Department of Economic Security, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)

 

 

            Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Amundson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

            After selling his business, relator applied for and received reemployment benefits.  The commissioner’s representative determined that relator had intentionally made misrepresentations regarding his employment status in his application for reemployment benefits.  Relator was required to repay the benefits and assessed a penalty for committing fraud.  On appeal, relator argues that the commissioner’s representative could not prove intent.  Because we conclude there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the commissioner’s representative’s decision, we affirm.

FACTS

            Relator Charles W. Benson owned and operated Hamline Liquors from October 1994 through May 1997.  On February 16, 1996, relator incorporated his business under the name CWB, Inc.  After incorporation, relator paid himself $2,000 per month as the store manager and paid unemployment taxes on himself as well as for the other employees.  On May 31, 1997, he sold his business because of financial difficulties and left his position.

            On June 8, 1997, relator applied for reemployment insurance benefits from respondent Minnesota Department of Economic Security.  One of the questions on the application form asked relator whether he was self-employed, farming, or operating a business that he “owned or controlled (partially or totally).”  Relator indicated on his application form that he was “self-employed,” but he failed to mention that he had owned and controlled Hamline Liquors.  He listed Hamline Liquors as his employer, described his position as a store manager from March 1, 1996, through May 31, 1997, and stated he left his position because of a “change of ownership.”  Relator received benefits totaling $2,600 for June 21, 1997, through November 15, 1997.

            Respondent issued a determination that relator had been overpaid by $2,600, and this overpayment resulted from relator’s intentional concealment of his ownership of Hamline Liquors.  In addition to requiring the overpayment be returned, respondent fined relator $650 for committing fraud.

            Relator appealed the determination and was granted a hearing before a reemployment compensation judge.  Respondent argued that: (1) by failing to check all the appropriate boxes, relator intentionally misled respondent into approving benefits; and (2) relator voluntarily quit by selling his business and was not entitled to benefits.  Relator argued there was no evidence of the intent to commit fraud.

            The reemployment compensation judge affirmed respondent’s determination of fraud.  Refusing to believe “that the question regarding operating a business in the past year is capable of misinterpretation,” the reemployment compensation judge found that failing to check all the appropriate answers was intentionally misleading.  The judge also found that relator’s description of his position as store manager was misleading because it failed to recognize his ownership and control of the business.

            The reemployment judge’s decision was affirmed by the commissioner’s representative.  Relator filed this certiorari appeal pro se, seeking review of the commissioner’s representative’s decision.  On appeal, relator argues that respondent failed to prove that relator intentionally committed fraud, and that he should not be required to repay the overpayment or pay a penalty.

D E C I S I O N

On appeal, we review the decision of the commissioner’s representative, not the decision of the reemployment compensation judge.  Tuff v. Knitcraft Corp., 526 N.W.2d 50, 51 (Minn. 1995).  We view the commissioner’s representative’s fact-findings in the light most favorable to the decision, and these findings will be sustained on appeal if there is evidence reasonably supporting them.  Hein v. Precision Associates, Inc., 609 N.W.2d 916, 918 (Minn. App. 2000).  Where credibility is at issue, “this court must defer to the Commissioner’s ability to weigh the evidence.”  Whitehead v. Moonlight Nursing Care, Inc., 529 N.W.2d 350, 352 (Minn. App. 1995).  All issues of fact must be determined by the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.  Minn. Stat. § 268.03, subd. 2 (1998).  However, the ultimate determination of whether an employee was properly disqualified from receiving reemployment benefits is a question of law, and we are free to exercise independent judgment.  Lolling v. Midwest Patrol, 545 N.W.2d 372, 377 (Minn. 1996).

            Minnesota law defines fraud in obtaining reemployment insurance benefits as “intentionally misrepresenting, misstating, or failing to disclose any material fact.”  Minn. Stat. § 268.18, subd. 2(a) (Supp. 1999).  If an applicant is found to have committed fraud,

the commissioner shall make a written determination that the applicant obtained benefits by fraud and that the applicant must promptly repay the benefits to the fund.

 

Id.  The commissioner must also assess a penalty against the applicant equal “to 25 percent of the amount fraudulently obtained.”  Id.  There is no statute of limitations for respondent to investigate a finding of fraud.  Id., subd. 2(e). 

            Here, the record supports the decision of the commissioner’s representative.  First, the commissioner’s representative did not find relator’s explanation credible, and we must defer to this finding of intent.  Burnevik v. Department of Econ. Sec., 367 N.W.2d 681, 683 (Minn. App. 1985) (holding that “[w]hether a claimant knowingly and willfully misrepresented or misstated material facts to obtain benefits” is an issue of credibility and, therefore, “within the province of the commissioner”).  Second, the combination of errors in relator’s application—failing to indicate his ownership and control of Hamline Liquors, and providing misleading answers about his employment status and his reason for leaving his position—tend to cast doubt on relator’s explanation that he merely made an honest mistake.  Cf. Cash v. Commissioner of Econ. Sec., 352 N.W.2d 535, 536-37 (Minn. App. 1984) (relying on mistaken advice in applying for reemployment benefits did not justify misleading answers).  Thus, we conclude that there was sufficient evidence in the record supporting the decision of the commissioner’s representative.

Affirmed.