Employee deemed to have voluntarily resigned from her position found eligible for unemployment insurance benefits under the circumstances
Matter of Bowman (City of Niagara Falls--Commissioner of Labor), 2015 NY Slip Op 00425, Appellate Division, Third Department
An individual may have but one domicile at time, i.e., his or her permanent place of abode, which continues until he or she has acquired a new one and any party alleging a change in an individual’s domicile “has the burden to prove the change by clear and convincing evidence."
In contrast, an individual may have multiple places of residence simultaneously, i.e., two or more residences in the same or at different geographical locations -- an apartment in New York City, a cottage at Cape Cod, a flat in London, England -- in which he or she may, from time to time, live, but only one such residence is his or her domicile.
The City of Niagara Falls’ local law requiring its employees to be residents of the City. The local law defined residency as "the actual principal place of residence of an individual, where he or she normally sleeps; normally maintains personal and household effects; the place listed as an address on voter registration; and the place listed as his or her address for driver's license and motor vehicle registration, if any" (Local Law No. 3  of City of Niagara Falls).
Sandra M. Bowman, who had been employed by the City from 1986 to 2011, was terminated after being deemed to have voluntarily resigned from her position in the Community Development Department for allegedly violating the City's local law requiring its employees to be residents.
Bowman applied for unemployment insurance benefits and also initiated an Article 78 action in Supreme Court, Niagara County, seeking reinstatement to her former position with the City. Supreme Court granted her petition, ruling that the City acted arbitrarily and capriciously in finding that Bowman did not reside in the City.
Subsequently, an Unemployment Insuance Administrative Law Judge ( ALJ) concluded that Bowman did not voluntarily leave her employment without good cause nor did she commit disqualifying misconduct for purposes of receiving unemployment insurance benefits, noting that she had provided her driver's license, a lease agreement, a rent check, her vehicle and voter registration, as well as other documentation showing her address to be within the City, and found that she slept at that address. The ALJ ruled that because "claimant met multiple indicators to establish that her Niagara Falls residence was her actual principal residence under the law, . . . claimant did not violate the law; as established during the [CPLR] [a]rticle 78 proceeding, which resulted in the annulment of the claimant's termination." The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board affirmed, adopting the ALJ's findings of fact and opinion.
Shortly thereafter the Appellate Division, Fourth Department reversed the Supreme Court judgment holding that “the evidence that petitioner produced "was not so overwhelming . . . under the extremely deferential standard applied in reviewing administrative determinations" to support Supreme Court’s granting Bowman’s petition.
Niagara Falls then appealed the Unemployment Insurance Board’s determination to the Appellate Division, Third Department, contending that the Board's determination lacked a rational basis because it improperly relied upon the subsequently-reversed judgment of Supreme Court in Niagara County.
The Third Department sustained the Board’s decision, explaining that the Fourth Department did not hold that the City had established that Bowman actually resided and normally slept at a residence outside the City but rather the Fourth Department concluded that, under the extremely deferential standard that was applicable upon review — whether the City's initial determination was arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion, it could not conclude that there was "no rational basis" for that determination (see Matter of Bowman v City of Niagara Falls, 107 AD3d at 1418).
In addition, the Third Department rejected the City's claim that the Board heavily relied upon the decision of Supreme Court in making its determination. The court said that “a fair reading of the ALJ's decision demonstrates that the Board made its own factual findings” as to whether Bowman violated the City’s residency requirement, and substantial evidence supports the determination that Bowman “did not engage in disqualifying misconduct or voluntarily separate from her employment.”
The decision is posted on the Internet at: