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CURTIS WHITE Appellant
vs.
DON LEE MARGIN CO. THE UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE APPEAL BOARD Appellee.
 
Case:
C.A. No. 93A-05-014
 
Location:
SUPERIOR COURT OF DELAWARE NEW CASTLE
 
Date:
November 21 1995 Decided
 
Attorneys:
Michael P. Maguire Esq. Wilmington Delaware Attorney for Appellant.
Carol P. Braverman Esq. Dover Delaware Attorney for Don Lee Margin Co.
James Maxwell Esq. Wilmington Delaware Attorney for UIAB.
 
Court:
GOLDSTEIN Judge.
 
Author:
The Hon. Justice Goldstein
 

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 19 1993 Curtis White filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Department of Labor Division of Unemployment Insurance. On January 28 1993 the claims deputy denied his claim finding that Mr. White left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to his employment pursuant to 19 Del. C. SEC.(S) 3315(1). This decision was affirmed by both the Appeals Referee and the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board ("Board").

This case comes now before this Court on appeal from the decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board. The following are the facts of this case as found by the Board n1.

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n1 Citations to the record will be labeled "R" followed by the stamped page number of the materials submitted by the Department of Labor.

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II. FACTS

Mr. White was employed in maintenance by Don Lee Margin Co. for a two month period ending on April 3 1992. On that date Mr. White informed his supervisor Terry Eckert that he needed to seek help for his drug addiction and therefore he would not be able to continue working at that time. Mr. White made this call from the West Jersey Hospital where he was admitted into detoxification for three days. The discharge summary from West Jersey Hospital gave a history of Mr. White's illness. It stated that he is a 32 year old male who has been using drugs and alcohol since the age of 13 his longest period of abstinence from drugs was eight months he last used drugs on the day he was admitted to the Hospital and he had previously been a patient at Turning Point Rehabilitation Program five years earlier. (R at 39). Once Mr. White was released from detox there was no break in his treatment. After detox he sought treatment at an in-patient program known as Faith Farm. The treatment offered by Faith Farm however did not suit the needs of Mr. White. (R at 21). Therefore once Mr. White left Faith Farm he contacted another in-patient facility known as Glass House. Glass House informed Mr. White that until a bed was available for him at their facility he would be required to receive counseling and have an evaluation done through SODAT. (R at 29). Consequently Mr. White began counseling with SODAT until June 3 1992 when he entered Glass House for a 90-day in-patient rehabilitation program. (R at 42). A doctor has since certified that Mr. White is capable of returning to work without any restrictions. (R at 2).

Upon his release from Glass House Mr. White contacted Terry Eckert. Ms. Eckert informed Mr. White that before he could resume his employment with Don Lee Margin Co. he would need to submit to a drug test and that she would get back to him with more information. After roughly one week without hearing from Don Lee Margin Mr. White again called Ms. Eckert and was told that she would get back to him. After one month of hearing nothing from Don Lee Margin Mr. White began collecting unemployment benefits and continued to do so for 10 weeks. (R at 27). Subsequently Mr. White was informed that he was not eligible for the receipt of unemployment benefits and that he would be required to pay back the $2450 that was previously collected by him. (R at 23).

On January 19 1993 Mr. White filed a claim for these benefits on the basis that he left work in order to recover from his drug addiction. The Claims Deputy the Appeals Referee and the Board each relied upon 19 Del. C. SEC.(S) 3315(1) to render their decisions. That section of the Delaware Code states in part:

An individual shall be disqualified for benefits:

(1) For the week in which he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work . . . However if an individual has left work involuntarily because of illness no disqualification shall prevail after he becomes able to work and available for work and meets all other requirements under this title but the Department shall require a doctor's certificate to establish such availability.

19 Del. C. SEC.(S) 3315(1).

More specifically on January 28 1993 the Claims Deputy denied Mr. White's claim holding that he was disqualified from the receipt of benefits because Mr. White left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to his work. (R at 4).

On March 10 1993 the Appeals Referee upheld the decision of the Claims Deputy. The Referee held that a drug addiction which is proven by adequate medical evidence constitutes an "illness" under 19 Del. C. SEC.(S) 3315(1). However at the hearing before the Referee the only medical documentation provided by Mr. White was the doctor's certificate stating that he was disabled from June 3 1992 until September 1 1992 while he was a patient at the Glass House. As a result the Referee found that Mr. White did not provide adequate medical documentation to show that he was addicted to drugs at the time he left work on April 3 1992 (R. at 8). Consequently the Referee ruled that Mr. White left Don Lee Margin Co. voluntarily without good cause attributable to his employment.

Based upon the Referee's decision Mr. White appealed his claim to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and presented additional medical evidence for the Board's consideration. Namely the discharge summary from the West Jersey Hospital and a letter from SODAT confirming Mr. White's involvement in their program. Upon review of the evidence that was provided by the Appeals Referee and the additional evidence presented by Mr. White at the Board hearing the Board affirmed the decision of the Referee on April 7 1993. The Board held that although Mr. White presented substantial evidence of his drug addiction which constitutes an "illness" under 19 Del. C. SEC.(S) 3315(1) he did not meet the requirement that his addiction caused him to leave work "involuntarily". As such the Board found that Mr. White left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to his employment.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing a decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board this Court is limited to a review of the Board's factual findings to determine if they are supported by substantial evidence. General Motors v. Freeman Del. Supr. 53 Del. 74 164 A.2d 686 688 (1960). Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Oceanport Ind. v. Wilmington Stevedores Del. Supr. 636 A.2d 892 899 (1994). This Court merely determines if the evidence is legally adequate to support the agency's factual findings. 29 Del. C. SEC.(S) 10142(d). Therefore in order for the Claimant to prevail he must show that the Board committed an error of law. Boughton v. Division of Unemployment Ins. Dep't of Labor Del. Super. 300 A.2d 25 26 (1972).

IV. DISCUSSION

The issue before this Court is whether Mr. White's drug addiction falls under the language of 19 Del. C. SEC.(S) 3315(1) such that he should not be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. In other words this Court must decide whether Mr. White's drug addiction caused him to leave work involuntarily due to illness.

Judge Longobardi discussed the meaning of "involuntariness" under 19 Del. C. SEC.(S) 3315(1) in Hollingsworth v. General Motors Corp. and Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd. De l. Super. C.A. No. 79A-JA-21 Longobardi J. (April 1 1980) (ORDER). In that case the Claimant left work as a result of a psychosomatic illness which was aggravated by his working conditions. In determining whether the Claimant left work involuntarily due to this illness the question was raised whether the Claimant had to show that he first consulted with a doctor who explicitly advised him to leave work. The Court found: although evidence that a doctor has advised a claimant in advance to quit his job because of illness would be entitled to great weight on this issue such evidence is not essential in order to establish "involuntariness" under SEC.(S) 3315(1). Rather the statutory elements of "illness" and involuntariness may be proved inter alia by expert opinions formed subsequent to a claimant's decision to quit and such opinions may relate back to the time of quitting.

Id. at 4. Therefore the expert opinions from the West Jersey Hospital (R at 39) and Dr. Stallings (R at 2) which both indicate that Mr. White was a cocaine addict can be used as evidence that he left work involuntarily. Further the Board found in its decision that Mr. White presented substantial evidence that he was addicted to cocaine at the time he left work on April 3 1992.

Several other jurisdictions have addressed the specific problem of alcohol and/or drug abuse in the work place. However most of these cases address the issue of whether a worker should be disqualified from the receipt of unemployment benefits when they are discharged for misconduct as a result of their drug addiction. n2 However in Harris v. Administrator Ohio Bureau of Employment Serv. No. 3899 1988 Ohio App. 3834 (Ohio Ct. App. Sept. 23 1988) the Court of Appeals of Ohio did have to decide the question of whether conduct induced by alcoholism could be considered involuntary. In that case the Claimant was discharged for leaving work without permission and being intoxicated at work. The Ohio Court ultimately decided that the Claimant's alcohol-induced conduct could be considered involuntary relying upon Hazlett v. Martin Chevrolet Inc. 25 Ohio St. 3d 279 496 N.E.2d 478 (1986) which held that drug addiction and alcoholism are considered handicaps as defined by Ohio law. The Harris Court also relied upon an Iowa Supreme Court case which held: Conduct induced by alcoholism may or may not be voluntary in the law depending upon the degree of impairment caused by the alcoholism. The degree of impairment must be determined under the facts of each case. It is only when the impairment is sufficient to deprive the individual of the ability to abstain from the intoxication-caused work lapse that the individual does not incur the disqualification for misconduct. Jacobs v. California Unemployment Ins. Appeals Ed. 25 Cal. App. 3d 1035 102 Cal. Rptr. 364 (1972).

Harris v. Administrator Ohio Bureau of Employment Serv. at *7 (citing Huntoon v. Iowa Dept. of Job Serv. 275 N.W.2d 445 448 (Iowa 1979)). The court in Harris applied the above reasoning to the facts of its case to determine that the Claimant's alcohol-induced behavior was involuntary. In particular the court considered: the history of Claimant's alcohol abuse; the finding of the Referee below that the Claimant was an alcoholic and; the testimony of the Claimant's counselor who said that the Claimant was unable to control her drinking until she was placed in a restrictive environment where she could receive treatment for her problem.

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n2 For example in some jurisdictions workers have been discharged and disqualified from benefits because: (1) they violated an employer policy prohibiting working under the influence of a controlled substance (Overstreet v. Dep't of Employment Sec. 522 N.E.2d 185 (Ill. App. Ct. 1988)); (2) their on-the-job performance was impaired due to their drug or alcohol abuse (National Gypsum Co. v. State Employment Sec. Bd. of Review 772 P.2d 786 (Kan. 1989)); (3) they failed to make reasonable efforts to control their addiction (Leslin v. County of Hennepin 347 N.W.2d 277 (Minn. 1984)) and; (4) they refused to seek treatment for their addiction at the employer's request (Shaw v. Unemployment Compensation Bd. of Review 539 A.2d 1383 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1988)).

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It should be noted that the history of alcohol abuse in Harris is very similar to the history of Mr. White's drug abuse. Namely the Claimant in Harris had a twelve year history of alcohol abuse she had previously been treated for alcoholism and on the day she left work the Claimant was admitted into detox for three days followed by 28 days of rehabilitation under the supervision of a physician and a counselor. Consequently this Court finds the ruling of Harris and the authority relied upon by that court to be persuasive.

This Court finds that an alcohol or drug addiction may fall under the language of 19 Del. C. SEC.(S) 3315(1) such that it could qualify as an illness which causes an involuntary absence from work. However each case must be evaluated separately to determine the extent of the addiction and its resulting impairment.

In Mr. White's case although he admitted himself into detox and voluntarily entered into treatment this did not necessarily make his absence from work voluntary. Given the nature of Mr. White's addiction and the Board's findings to that effect his absence was caused by an illness recognized under SEC.(S) 3315(1) and was involuntary. As such this Court finds that the holding of the Board that Mr. White's drug addiction caused him to leave work voluntarily is not supported by substantial evidence.

Therefore the decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board is REVERSED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.