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Grina v. Job Service North Dakota

Supreme Court of North Dakota

January 15, 2019

Linda K. Grina, Appellant
v.
Job Service North Dakota, Appellee and Bismarck Gymnastics Academy, Respondent

          Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Gail Hagerty, Judge.

          Michael R. Hoffman, Bismarck, ND, for appellant.

          Michael T. Pitcher, Office of the Attorney General, Bismarck, ND, for appellee.

          OPINION

          Crothers, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Linda Grina appeals from a district court judgment affirming the denial of her unemployment benefits. We affirm, concluding under our standard of review that a reasoning mind could have determined Grina left her employment voluntarily and without good cause attributable to the employer.

         I

         [¶ 2] Grina started coaching at Bismarck Gymnastics Academy in 1992. In 2015 or 2016 she was appointed interim executive director/program director with retained coaching duties. When a new executive director was hired, Grina was instructed to assist the executive director in acclimating to the gym and working environment. In July 2017 the employer informed Grina she was placed on probation for failure to assist the new executive director as instructed. A week later Grina sent a letter to the gym's board of directors relinquishing the interim program director title and job duties and expressing her desire to stay employed as a coach. In August 2017 Grina met with the gym board of directors. The board informed Grina her duties as interim program director were not separable from her coaching duties, and if she chose to resign as interim program director she also would be resigning from coaching. Grina indicated she would not continue performing the duties of interim program director. The board issued a termination letter.

         [¶ 3] Grina filed for unemployment benefits through Job Service. Job Service granted Grina benefits in October 2017 after finding the employer did not show her termination was due to misconduct. The employer appealed and a Job Service appeals referee conducted a hearing in December 2017. The referee reversed the initial decision and found Grina voluntarily left her employment without good cause attributable to the employer. Grina appealed the referee's decision to the Job Service North Dakota Bureau and sought to introduce new evidence, including emails and a text message referencing Grina being "let go" or "terminated." The Bureau added the documents to the claim file but did not consider the information in its decision affirming the referee's determination. Grina appealed to the district court. On May 21, 2018, the district court affirmed the Bureau's decision denying Grina unemployment benefits.

         II

         [¶ 4] This Court reviews a district court's decision reviewing an administrative agency's decision under the standards set out in N.D.C.C. § 28-32-46. We review the agency's decision and record compiled before the agency while giving respect to the district court's sound reasoning. People to Save the Sheyenne River, Inc. v. N.D. Dep't of Health, 2005 ND 104, ¶ 15, 697 N.W.2d 319. This Court will not make independent findings of fact or substitute judgment for that of the agency. Von Ruden v. North Dakota Workforce Safety and Ins. Fund, 2008 ND 166, ¶ 8, 755 N.W.2d 885. The appeals referee is the factfinder and must decide issues of credibility and determine the weight of the evidence. Schweitzer v. Job Serv. North Dakota, 2009 ND 139, ¶ 15, 770 N.W.2d 238. On appeal, we determine whether a reasoning mind reasonably could have determined the referee's factual conclusions were proved by the weight of the evidence. Id. (quoting Spectrum Care LLC v. Stevick, 2006 ND 155, ¶ 11, 718 N.W.2d 593). Under our standard of review the question is whether a reasoning mind reasonably could have determined Grina voluntarily left her employment without showing good cause attributable to her employer.

         III

         [¶ 5] Grina argues she is entitled to unemployment benefits because the weight of the evidence does not support the appeals referee's decision that she voluntarily left her position. Under N.D.C.C. § 52-06-02(1), Job Service will disqualify individuals from receiving unemployment benefits if the person "voluntarily quit without good cause attributable to the employer." Whether employee separation is due to termination or voluntary reasons is a factual decision for Job Service. Hjelden v. Job Service North Dakota, 1999 ND 234, ¶ 8, 603 N.W.2d 500. If Job Service determines the employee quit, the employee is ineligible for benefits unless the employee shows good cause attributable to the employer. Id. If Job Service determines the employee separation is a result of termination, the employee is eligible for benefits unless the employer proves misconduct. Id. If confronted with disputed facts, we defer to the referee's findings and consider only whether a reasoning mind could have reasonably determined the factual conclusions were proved by a preponderance of the evidence. Holiday Inn v. Karch, 514 N.W.2d 374, 376 (N.D. 1994).

         [¶ 6] A reasoning mind could rationally find Grina voluntarily quit. A gym board member testified although the employer placed Grina on probation for failure to help the new executive director, the employer intended to keep Grina on as a program director with coaching responsibilities. Grina responded in writing stating she was relinquishing her title and duties as interim program director but intended to keep her position as coach. The board subsequently informed Grina no coaching positions were available aside from that associated with the program director position. Job Service found Grina's decision was equivalent to quitting because her primary position and job duties were that of ...


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