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Kent State University v. Hannam

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Portage

July 22, 2019

KENT STATE UNIVERSITY, Appellee,
v.
WILLIAM B. HANNAM, et al., Appellant.

          Appeal from the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2017 CV 01056.

          John N. Childs and Bryan E. Meek, Brennan, Manna & Diamond, LLC, 75 East Market Street, Akron, OH 44308 (For Appellee).

          Michelle Wrona Fox, Community Legal Aid Services, 11 Central Square, 7th Floor, Youngstown, OH 44503 (For Appellant).

          OPINION

          CYNTHIA WESTCOTT RICE, J.

         {¶1} Appellant, William B. Hannam, appeals the November 30, 2018 judgment of the Portage County Court of Common Pleas reversing the Ohio Unemployment Compensation Review Commission's decision to award appellant unemployment benefits for a certain period in August 2017. For the reasons discussed herein, the decision of the Portage County Court of Common Pleas is affirmed.

         {¶2} The facts are undisputed. Mr. Hannam was employed by the Kent State University as a part-time adjunct professor in the Music Department for the Spring 2017 semester, which ended on May 15, 2017. On June 13, 2017, Mr. Hannam received a letter from the University offering "reasonable assurance," pursuant to the University's employment practices, that Mr. Hannam would be needed for the following "fall and/or spring semester(s)" (the "Reasonable Assurance Letter or the "Letter"). The Letter did not specify which classes Mr. Hannam would teach but Mr. Hannam testified that he knew in the spring of 2017 that he was listed as a professor on the fall class schedule. The Letter stated that his continued employment was subject to the University's "employment practices." Both the University and Mr. Hannam understood this to mean that Mr. Hannam's employment was contingent on sufficient student enrollment, with priority to full-time faculty pursuant to the faculty Collective Bargaining Agreement, and budget approval. Ultimately, the University confirmed Mr. Hannam's classes had sufficient enrollment for the fall semester on August 11, 2017, and on August 28, 2017, Mr. Hannam began teaching.

         {¶3} Shortly after receiving the Reasonable Assurance Letter, Mr. Hannam applied to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) for unemployment benefits. On July 7, 2017, ODJFS determined that Mr. Hannam was totally unemployed due to lack of work and allowed his application for benefits. The University timely appealed and, upon reconsideration, ODJFS modified the decision to allow benefits from May 15, 2017 through June 17, 2017, but determined that starting the week of June 18, 2017, Mr. Hannam had reasonable assurance of employment for the next academic year and therefore was not eligible for benefits from June 18, 2017 through August 26, 2017. That decision also ordered Mr. Hannam to repay $690.00 that ODJFS determined to be overpaid benefits. Mr. Hannam timely appealed and ODJFS transferred jurisdiction to the Review Commission pursuant to R.C. 4141.281(B).

         {¶4} In August 2017, a Review Commission Hearing Officer conducted an evidentiary hearing, and, in the September 8, 2017 decision, the Hearing Officer determined Mr. Hannam did not have reasonable assurances until the week ending August 19, 2017, i.e., the week the University confirmed adequate enrollment in Mr. Hannam's classes, and that Mr. Hannam, accordingly, was entitled to benefits from June 18, 2017 through August 12, 2017. The University requested further review, and on November 15, 2017, the Review Commission ultimately affirmed their decision.

         {¶5} The University then appealed to the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, which reversed the Review Commission's grant of unemployment benefits, finding Mr. Hannam had reasonable assurances as of the June 13, 2017 Reasonable Assurances Letter. The instant appeal followed.

         {¶6} Mr. Hannam assigns two errors for our review, which we address together:

         {¶7} [1] The trial court erred by reversing the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission's decision when it found Mr. Hannam was ineligible for benefits since he had reasonable assurance of employment because the Review Commission decision was not unlawful, unreasonable or against the manifest weight of the evidence.

         {¶8} [2] The trial court erred by reversing the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission's decision to grant Mr. Hannam unemployment compensation benefits because Mr. Hannam did not have reasonable assurances of employment as defined by Unemployment Insurance Program Letter 5-17.

         {¶9} In reviewing the decision of the trial court in this matter, we apply a manifest weight of the evidence standard of review. According to R.C. 4141.282(H), "[i]f the [reviewing] court finds that the decision of the commission was unlawful, unreasonable, or against the manifest weight of the evidence, it shall reverse, vacate, or modify the decision, or remand the matter to the commission. Otherwise, the court shall affirm the decision of the commission." Though R.C. 4141.282 specifically addresses appeals to the court of common pleas, and not to appellate courts, the Supreme Court of Ohio has held that, in appeals from the unemployment compensation review commission, the same standard of review applies to both the court of common pleas and the appellate court. Tzangas, Plakas & Mannos v. Ohio Bur. of Emp. Serv., 73 Ohio St.3d 694 (1995), paragraph one of the syllabus. "When we review the trial court's decision, we apply the same standard. In such cases, this Court is 'required to focus on the decision of Review Commission, rather than that of the common pleas court[.]'" Univ. of Akron v. Ohio Dept. of Job & Family Servs., 9th Dist. Summit No. 24566, 2009-Ohio-3172, ¶9, quoting Markovich v. Employers Unity, Inc., 9th Dist. Summit No. 21826, 2004-Ohio-4193.

         {¶10} Furthermore, "[t]he court's role is to determine whether the decision of the Review Commission is supported by evidence in the certified record. * * * If the reviewing court finds that such support is found, then the court cannot substitute its judgment for that of the Review Commission. * * * The fact that reasonable minds might reach different conclusions is not a basis for the reversal of the [Review Commission's] decision.'" (citations ...


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