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Gayln L. Olson, Bradley L. Nelson, Rebecca L. Harstad, Keith v. Job Service North Dakota and American Crystal Sugar Company

February 26, 2013

GAYLN L. OLSON, BRADLEY L. NELSON, REBECCA L. HARSTAD, KEITH ABRAHAMSON, JOANN ALLARD, DEBORAH A. AMBUEHL, GERTRUDE E. ANDERSON, ROBERT ANDERSON, PAUL ANDERSON, RANDY ANDERSON, BILLY BALSTAD, MATTHEW A. BARKER, JAMES BEACH, DANIEL BECK, JON BEDARD, DANIEL W. BEINE, BRIAN BERG, BRENDA K. BERG, STEVEN BERGLAND, OTTO P. BERTSCH, JULIE BJORKLUND, CRAIG BLACK, VERNON BLAZEJEWSKI, DANIEL BLOOMQUIST, EVELYN BOEDDEKER, MARK BOEDDEKER, SANDRA BRATLIE, MARLENE BRATLIE, MICHAEL BRATLIE, STEVEN M. BREILAND, KRISTINE L. BRISKY, LAWRENCE BROSIUS, MONTY H. BROWN, DAN BUECKERS, TRACY R. BURDETTE, BRENT BUTENHOFF, WILLIAM CARLIN, SHARON M. CHAMBERLAIN, LEE CHRISTENSEN, SCOTT R. CHRISTIE, DALE CLAUSEN, MICHAEL CULL, DARLYNE DAHL, PAUL DAHLMAN, CHRISTOPHER DAVIS, MARK DE MOSS, DONOVAN DONARSKI, GARY DONARSKI, DANIEL L. DUMAS, LYNETTE R. EBERHARDT, ROLLIN EBERHARDT, MARVIN EBERHARDT, LANCE EIDE, MILTON ELHARD,STEVE ELIASON, RODNEY ENGLUND, RICHARD A. ERSTAD, MARVIN ERSTAD, ANN FETTIG, THOMAS M. FISCHER, HAROLD FISCHER, RICHARD A. FLIETH, RENAE M. FREDRICKSON, LYNN FREDRICKSON, JADE FREDRICKSON, TERRY FREDRICKSON, MICHAEL M. FREY, DOUGLAS FUGLEBERG, MORRIS GILBERTSON, EARL GORSUCH, MERIDITH GOZDAL, TODD GOZDAL, RUSSELL GRANDSTRAND, ROGER GRATTON, BRIAN GUNDERSON, GERALD GUNKEL, TIMOTHY GUNNERSON, TIM W. GUST, WILLIAM HAINES, MICHAEL HALEY, MICHAEL HALSTAD, TRACY HAMPSON, CHRISTIAN HANSON, PAUL HANSON, DEBRA HATTON, SCOTT HAUX, DOYLE HEDEN, ALECIA HEISER, JASON HERMANSON, MARK HERMANSON, CHERYL HEUER, JEROME A. HIGDEM, THEODORE HILTON, RYAN HJELMSTAD, TERRY HOLM, M. KENT HOLMBERG, WAYNE HOMSTAD, WAYNE HORGE, BRIAN HOYT, BRUCE JACOBSON, BARBARA JENSEN, EARL JENSEN, MICHAEL JOHNSON, HARLAN JOHNSON, DAVID JORGENSON, DEAN J. KAHL, RORY KALE, SHARON KALKA, BRIAN KARBOVIAK, NEIL KEENA, JOYCE KELLER, STEPHEN KISSEE, ANN M. KLEMETSON, TOMMY D. KLEMETSON, FRED KLOSTER, JAMES W. KNECHT, ROSS KNUDSVIG, ANDREA KNUTSON, LUTHER KOAPKE, ANDREW KORCZAK, CONRAD KOSTRZEWSKI, RANDY KOWALSKI, JOE KULWICKI, DAVID KUZNIA, DEBRA KUZNIA, DION LARSON, JAMES LARSON, JEANETTE M. LEE, RONALD LEE, GREGORY LEFROTTH, JEREMY LITTLEJOHN, CARL LIZAKOWSKI, MIKE LORENSON, CHRISTOPHER LYNG, JOSE MARTINEZ, KYLE MATTI, DUANE MCRITCHIE, GARY MELLAND, TIM MESHEFSKI, CINDY L. MEYER, KATHERINE J. MICKELSON, PRISCILLA MIDBOE, DEANNA MIDDLETON, TIMOTHY D. MILLER, DANIEL MILLER, DONNA MILLER, JOHN P. MOONEY, TAMI MOONEY, JENNIFER MOONEY, DORSEY MOSS, BEN D. MULDER, JEFFERY L. NELSON, TONI NELSON, DWIGHT NELSON, WAYNE NETTERLUND, NEOMIE NIELSEN, JASON NORDINE, LARRY OLSON, BRADLEY OLSON, ROBERT OLSON, BRUCE OSOWSKI, TOM PACHOLKE, CURTIS PARKER, HOLLY PASSA, MATTHEW PASSA, JORDAN PATTERSON, ELLEN PATTERSON, DARIN PEDERSON, DANIEL PELLETIER, CRAIG PETERSEN, LARRY PEDERSON, DAVE POKRZWINSKI, PAULINE POKRZWINSKI, RODNEY PUPPE, TAMMY PUPPE, SILAS RAWLS, MARY J. REMORE, RODNEY REMORE, RODOLFO REYES, NATHAN L. RHAM, BRIAN RICE, ERIC RICE, ROBERT ROBINSON, STACY L. AGNEW (ROGERS), DWIGHT ROST, CHRISTOPHER ROST, PAUL RUE, GARY SAILOR, KARI SAILOR, MIKE S. SAYLER, YVONNE SCHMALTZ, JOHN SCHNELLBACH, JAMES SCHREINER, RICHARD SHEPPARD, MONROE SIEBELS, JULIE A. SIMONSON, MIKE SINK, DEBORAH M. SINNER, LARRY G. SINNER, TIMOTHY SORTEBERG, CHARLES SPICER, LINDA STASKIVIGE, DONALD STASKIVIGE, LISA STASKIVIGE, CHAD STRAND, BRADLEY STUART, ROBERT SUNDBY, MARGARET SUNDEEN, JEAN SWENSON, TODD SWENSON, THOMAS TABER, RICHARD TASTAD, BRAD TASTAD, BRIAN TASTAD, BILLIE TEEGARDEN, RICHARD TEEGARDEN, RICK TESSIN, MARI J. THOMSON, JASON R. THOMSON, ROBERT TORKELSON, JOHN TOSTRUP, SHERYL TOSTRUP, JASON G. TROSVIG, JUSTIN TUFTE, LARRY WALDAL, ANTHONY A. WANBACH, DORENE K. WANBACH, DONALD WATERS, JOHN WELLMAN, DEREK WETZEL, HOWARD WIEBER, CHAD WILDEMAN, DENNIS WILEBSKI, BARBARA WILLISON, PAUL WOINAROWICZ,
APPELLANTS
v.
JOB SERVICE NORTH DAKOTA AND AMERICAN CRYSTAL SUGAR COMPANY,
APPELLEES



Appeal from the District Court of Traill County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Steven L. Marquart, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kapsner, Justice.

N.D. Supreme Court

Olson v. Job Service,

2013 ND 24 This opinion is subject to petition for rehearing. [Go to Documents]

[Download as WordPerfect] Concurrence and Dissents [ 1 ] [ 2 ] filed.

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Opinion of the Court by Kapsner, Justice.

[¶1] Claimants appeal a district court judgment affirming Job Service North Dakota's decision denying them unemployment benefits. Because the plain language of N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4) only disqualifies claimants from unemployment compensation for employee initiated work stoppages due to a labor dispute, it does not apply to the locked out Claimants. We reverse the district court's judgment affirming Job Service's benefit denial and remand to Job Service for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I

[¶2] Claimants are bargaining unit employees of American Crystal Sugar's ("ACS") North Dakota facilities and are represented by various local unions of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union ("Unions"). During the summer of 2011, the Unions and ACS were engaged in contract negotiations for a successor agreement. The Unions and ACS were unable to reach a settlement, and on July 28, 2011, ACS made its final contract offer. The Unions rejected the offer. On August 1, 2011, ACS locked out its bargaining unit employees and began using replacement workers. Claimants applied for unemployment compensation. Job Service determined Claimants were disqualified from benefits because they were "unemployed due to a labor dispute" under N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4), which precludes unemployment compensation if "the individual's unemployment is due to a strike, sympathy strike, or a claimant's work stoppage dispute of any kind which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment, or other premises . . . ." The claims were consolidated under N.D.C.C. § 52-06-20, and Claimants appealed the decision to an appeals referee. The referee affirmed the benefit denial, stating:

It is reasoned that the claimants are unemployed due to a labor dispute . . . . Subsection 52-06-02(4) [precludes compensation for] unemployment . . . due to a "strike, sympathy strike, or a claimant's work stoppage dispute of any kind." The phrase "of any kind" suggests that the Legislature intended for a liberal rather than a narrow interpretation of a "claimant's work stoppage dispute." This would include lockouts, even where the individual was willing to continue to work or has offered to return to work under the same terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement. Claimants requested Job Service review under N.D.C.C. § 52-06-19, and the request was denied. Claimants then petitioned the district court for review of the benefit denial. The district court affirmed, concluding the statutory language clearly and unambiguously shows Claimants "are not entitled to unemployment benefits because of their unemployment due to a lockout."

II

[¶3] Under N.D.C.C. § 28-32-46, a district court must affirm an administrative agency order unless:

1. The order is not in accordance with the law. 2. The order is in violation of the constitutional rights of the appellant. 3. The provisions of this chapter have not been complied with in the proceedings before the agency. 4. The rules or procedure of the agency have not afforded the appellant a fair hearing. 5. The findings of fact made by the agency are not supported by a preponderance of the evidence. 6. The conclusions of law and order of the agency are not supported by its findings of fact. 7. The findings of fact made by the agency do not sufficiently address the evidence presented to the agency by the appellant. 8. The conclusions of law and order of the agency do not sufficiently explain the agency's rationale for not adopting any contrary recommendations by a hearing officer or an administrative law judge. "On appeal from a district court ruling on an administrative decision, this Court reviews the agency order in the same manner." Morris v. Job Serv. North Dakota, 2003 ND 45, ¶ 5, 658 N.W.2d 345 (citing N.D.C.C. § 28-32-49). However, interpretation of a statute is a question of law, and this Court reviews questions of law de novo. Morris, at ¶ 5 (citation omitted).

III

[¶4] Our disposition of this case turns on the interpretation of N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4), which states, in relevant part, an employee is disqualified from unemployment benefits when:

[T]he individual's unemployment is due to a strike, sympathy strike, or a claimant's work stoppage dispute of any kind which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment, or other premises . . . .

[¶5] "The primary purpose of statutory interpretation is to determine legislative intent." Teigen v. State, 2008 ND 88, ¶ 19, 749 N.W.2d 505 (citing Estate of Elken, 2007 ND 107, ¶ 7, 735 N.W.2d 842). In doing so, "[t]he Legislature's intent must be sought initially from the statutory language." District One Republican Comm. v. District One Democrat Comm., 466 N.W.2d 820, 824 (N.D. 1991) (citation omitted). "If the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, the letter of the statute cannot be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit because the legislative intent is presumed clear from the face of the statute." Stutsman Cnty. v. State Historical Society, 371 N.W.2d 321, 325 (N.D. 1985) (citations omitted). "Words . . . in a[] statute are to be understood in their ordinary sense, unless a contrary intention plainly appears . . . ." N.D.C.C. § 1-02-02. But, if the statute is ambiguous or of doubtful meaning, we may look to extrinsic aids to interpret the statute. Teigen, at ¶ 19; District One Republican Comm., 466 N.W.2d at 825.

[¶6] On appeal, Claimants argue they are eligible for unemployment benefits because N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4) does not apply to locked out employees. Specifically, they argue "strike, sympathy strike, or a claimant's work stoppage dispute of any kind," by plain meaning, refers exclusively to employee initiated work stoppages, excluding employer initiated action such as a lockout. In support, they argue the rule of ejusdem generis demonstrates the phrase "of any kind" only refers to additional types of claimant work stoppages related to a labor dispute. However, ACS and Job Service, under a plain language interpretation, argue the modifier "of any kind" after the phrase "work stoppage dispute" broadens the scope of work stoppages to include lockouts. ACS argues Claimants' reliance on ejusdem generis is misplaced because the rule is used to reconcile incompatibility between specific and general statutory words so all words are given effect and no words are superfluous. ACS argues N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4) contains no incompatibility, and its plain meaning supports Job Service and ACS's interpretation Claimant's are disqualified for unemployment compensation.

[¶7] "[U]nder the principle of ejusdem generis, general words following particular and specific words are not given their natural and ordinary sense, standing alone, but are confined to persons and things of the same kind or genus as those enumerated." Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dickinson Econo-Storage, 474 N.W.2d 50, 52-53 (N.D. 1991) (quotation omitted). In applying the rule of ejusdem generis, "we must keep in mind the admonition that . . . our primary purpose is always to carry out the intent of the legislature." Id. at 53 (citing Aanenson v. Bastien, 438 N.W.2d 151, 156 (N.D. 1989)). "The rule accomplishes the purpose of giving effect to both the particular and the general words, by treating the particular words as indicating the class, and the general words as extending the provisions of the statute to everything embraced in that class, though not specifically named by the particular words." Resolution Trust, at 53 (quotation omitted).

[¶8] In Resolution Trust, we interpreted a statute that stated, "[i]f any tax on any real estate is paid by or collected from any occupant or tenant or any other person . . . such occupant, tenant, or other person may recover by action the amount . . . paid . . . ." 474 N.W.2d at 52 (emphasis added). The appellee argued the phrase "or any other person" meant "any person could pay the real estate taxes on . . . property and receive a money judgment against the owner or other responsible party." Id. (emphasis in original). We rejected this interpretation because, in addition to the illogical result it created, the rule of ejusdem generis shows "any other person" refers to "other persons of the same general class as occupants and tenants." Id. at 53. In doing so, we said:

[W]here a statute or other document enumerates several classes of persons or things, and immediately following and classed with such enumeration the clause embraces "other" persons or things, the word "other" will generally be read as "other such like," so that persons or things therein comprised may be read as ejusdem generis with, and not of quality superior to or different from, those specifically enumerated. Id. (quoting Gaustad v. Nygaard, 64 N.D. 785, 788, 256 N.W. 230, 231-232 (1934)). Accordingly, we held the statute applied to "occupants, tenants, or other persons with some interest in or connection with the subject property." Resolution Trust, 474 N.W.2d at 53.

[¶9] Applying that logic in this case demonstrates the phrase "strike, sympathy strike, or a claimant's work stoppage dispute of any kind" applies exclusively to claimant work stoppages. The phrase explicitly lists strikes and sympathy strikes as disqualifying conduct. A strike is a "temporary stoppage of work by the concerted action of two or more employees as a result of a labor dispute." N.D.C.C. § 34-08-01(4); see also Black's Law Dictionary 1558 (9th ed. 2009) (A strike is "[a]n organized cessation or slowdown of work by employees to compel the employer to meet the employees' demands . . . ."). A strike is an employee initiated work stoppage. A sympathy strike is "[a] strike by union members who have no grievance against their own employer but who want to show support for another union involved in a labor dispute." Black's, at 1558. A sympathy strike, too, is exclusively an employee initiated work stoppage. In contrast, a "lockout" is "[a]n employer's withholding of work and closing of a business because of a labor dispute." Id. at 1024. Lockouts are an employer initiated action.

[¶10] Thus, after the statute lists two specific examples of employee initiated work stoppages, it logically follows the next and last phrase, "or a claimant's work stoppage dispute of any kind," based on the construction and context of the sentence, refers to additional types of employee initiated work stoppages. Rather than enumerating a variety of employee initiated work stoppages, the Legislature's use of the phrase "of any kind," qualified by "a claimant's," expands the types of disqualifying employee work stoppages within the context of the statute.

[¶11] Similar to Resolution Trust, 474 N.W.2d at 53, where "any other person" following a specific class of people refers exclusively to "other persons of the same general class," this statute's phrase "of any kind," by plain meaning, refers to other work stoppages initiated by persons of the same general class: claimants.

[¶12] Furthermore, Claimants assert their interpretation of N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4) is clear and Job Service and ACS's statutory construction renders part of the statute superfluous. Claimants argue "extending the labor dispute disqualification to locked out employees whose employer has replaced them completely divorces the disqualification from its phrase '[a] claimant's work stoppage dispute.'" In contrast, ACS argues its statutory interpretation is clear and Claimants' statutory construction renders part of the statute superfluous, noting: "[I]f the disqualification only applied in the strike context, the phrase 'of any kind' would be rendered a nullity." Job Service advances a similar argument, expanding on the appeals referee's determination the phrase "of any kind" supports an interpretation of work stoppage dispute broad enough to include lockouts.

[¶13] "A statute's language must be interpreted in context, and this Court attempts to give meaning and effect to every word, phrase, and sentence." Holbach v. City of Minot, 2012 ND 117, ¶ 14, 817 N.W.2d 340 (quotation and citations omitted). "In enacting a statute, it is presumed . . .[t]he entire statute is intended to be effective." N.D.C.C. § 1-02-38(2). All sections of a statute must be construed to have meaning because "[t]he law neither does nor requires idle acts." N.D.C.C. § 31-11-05(23).

[¶14] ACS and Job Service's statutory construction reads "a claimant's" out of the statute. Indeed, if the inclusion of "work stoppage dispute of any kind" broadens "a claimant's work stoppage dispute of any kind" to include employer initiated work stoppages, the phrase "a claimant's" becomes superfluous. Section 52-06-02(4), N.D.C.C., reads "a claimant's work stoppage dispute of any kind"; it does not read "a work stoppage dispute of any kind." ACS and Job Service's interpretation essentially rewrites N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4) to preclude benefits:

For any week with respect to which it is found that the individual's unemployment is due to a strike, sympathy strike, or work stoppage dispute of any kind which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment, or other premises . . . . Under this construction, employees would be disqualified from unemployment benefits for any work stoppage related to a labor dispute. As illustrated below, this language was initially proposed in the statute's 1981 amendment; however, it was modified to ensure the 1981 work stoppage amendment applied exclusively to claimant work stoppages.

[¶15] We conclude "a claimant's work stoppage dispute of any kind" refers exclusively to employee initiated work stoppages, and because a lockout is not an employee initiated work stoppage, N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4)'s plain language does not disqualify Claimants from benefits.

IV

[¶16] Though we find the plain language of N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4) is clear, the parties advance different, rational plain language statutory interpretations. Because this meets our definition of ambiguous, we address N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(4)'s legislative history. See State v. Martin, 2011 ND 6, ¶ 5, 793 N.W.2d 188 (noting "[a] statute is ambiguous if it is susceptible to different, rational meanings").

[¶17] We begin with the legislative history of the original unemployment compensation statute's labor dispute provision. Most states' unemployment statutes were modeled after the 1935 Social Security Act. See Milton I. Shadur, Unemployment Benefits and the "Labor Dispute" Disqualification, 17 Univ. Chi. L. Rev. 294, 294-95 (1949-1950). By 1937, every state had enacted statutes creating qualifying programs and most states, North Dakota included, copied the language from the Federal Act. Id. at 295. As originally passed, 1937 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 232, § 7(c)(2)(d) (codified as amended at N.D.R.C. § 52-0602(4) (1943)), stated, in relevant part, an employee was disqualified for unemployment compensation:

For any week with respect to which the Bureau finds that his total or partial unemployment is due to a stoppage of work which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment, or other premises . . . . This disqualifying language remained substantively unchanged until 1981.

[¶18] In 1980, in Robberstad v. Dir. N.D. Employment Security Bureau, Burleigh County Civ. Case No. 28570 (1980), on which the dissent relies, benefits were denied based upon the following statutory language:

4. For any week with respect to which it is found that his [unemployment] is due to a stoppage of work which exists because of a labor dispute . . . provided that this subsection shall not apply if it is shown that: a. he is not participating in or directly interested in the labor dispute which caused the stoppage of work; and b. he does not belong to a grade or class of workers which, immediately before the commencement of the stoppage, there were members employed at the premises at which the stoppage occurs, any of whom ...


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