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Digiulio v. Director of Department of Unemployment Assistance

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

October 24, 2018


          Heard: December 7, 2017.

         Civil action commenced in the Chelsea Division of the District Court Department on December 21, 2015.

         The case was heard by Benjamin C. Barnes, J.

          David A. Guberman, Special Assistant Attorney General (Carolyn E. Hunt also present) for the defendant.

          Doreen M. Zankowski for the plaintiff.

          Present: Agnes, Blake, & McDonough, JJ.

          AGNES, J.

         The sole question before us is whether the plaintiff, Jessica DiGiulio, is entitled to unemployment benefits after leaving her employment in Massachusetts to relocate to Puerto Rico with her husband, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), who was transferred to work on the island. We conclude that the twelfth paragraph of G. L. c. 151A, § 25 (e), controls the outcome of this case and precludes DiGiulio from receiving unemployment benefits. We therefore reverse the judgment issued by the District Court judge.


         The essential facts are not in dispute. DiGiulio worked full time as a registered nurse for Ideal Image of Massachusetts beginning in May, 2014. Her husband works as a special agent for the DEA. In April, 2015, DiGiulio's husband was notified by the DEA that he would be transferred to Puerto Rico in July, 2015, for a period of at least three years. DiGiulio subsequently informed her manager that she intended to resign from her position in August, 2015, due to her husband's relocation. Her husband moved to Puerto Rico and began his assignment on July 27, 2015. DiGiulio's last day of work was on August 26, 2015. She remained in Massachusetts for approximately one month before joining her husband in Puerto Rico.

         DiGiulio filed a claim for unemployment compensation with the Department of Unemployment Assistance (department) in September, 2015. In paperwork DiGiulio submitted to the department, she explained that she could no longer continue working at her job due to her "[h]usband's job relocating us to [P]uerto [R]ico." The department issued a notice of disqualification on September 25, 2015. On September 30, 2015, DiGiulio requested a hearing on the matter, and a telephonic hearing was conducted before a department review examiner on October 20, 2015. The review examiner concluded that DiGiulio was disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation on the basis that she left her employment to relocate with her husband to Puerto Rico. DiGiulio appealed the decision of the review examiner to the department's board of review (board), which denied review and thereby adopted the review examiner's decision. See G. L. c. 151A, § 41 (c). Thereafter, DiGiulio filed a complaint for review in the District Court. The judge ultimately vacated the decision of the board and ordered the department "to pay [DiGiulio] her unemployment compensation, if she is otherwise eligible." The judgment was stayed pending final disposition of the department's appeal, which is now before us.


         We review the board's decision based on the standards set forth in G. L. c. 30A, § 14 (7). See G. L. c. 151A, § 42. "The agency's decision may only be set aside if the court determines that the decision is unsupported by substantial evidence or is arbitrary or capricious, an abuse of discretion, or not in accordance with law." Coverall N. Am., Inc. v. Commissioner of the Div. of Unemployment Assistance, 447 Mass. 852, 857 (2006). "[W]here an agency determination is based on a question of law, we review the matter de novo." Cape Cod Collaborative v. Director of the Dep't of Unemployment Assistance, 91 Mass.App.Ct. 436, 440 (2017) .

         General Laws c. 151A, § 25, sets forth a number of circumstances under which a claimant may be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. Subsection (e) of G. L. c. 151A, § 25, has been amended numerous times since it was first enacted in 1941. The first paragraph of G. L. c. 151A, § 25 (e), provides that a claimant may be barred from receiving unemployment benefits where she leaves her employment "voluntarily unless the employee establishes by substantial and credible evidence that [s]he had good cause for leaving attributable to the employing unit or its agent." The third paragraph of § 25 (e) (paragraph three), however, goes on to provide that "[a]n individual shall not be disqualified from receiving benefits under the provisions of this subsection, if such individual establishes to the satisfaction of the commissioner that his reasons for leaving were for such an urgent, compelling and necessitous nature as to make his separation involuntary." G. L. c. 151A, § 25 (e) . There are decisions of both this court and the Supreme Judicial Court recognizing that a claimant's personal circumstances, including relocating with one's spouse or partner to another locality, may constitute such "urgent, compelling and necessitous" reasons for leaving gainful employment so as to render the claimant's "separation involuntary." Id. See Norfolk County RetirementSys. v. Director of the Dep't of Labor & Workforce Dev., 66 Mass.App.Ct. 759, 765 (2006), and cases cited. Indeed, in Director of the Div. of Employment Sec, v. Fingerman, 378 Mass. 461, 462, 464 (1979), the Supreme Judicial Court held that the board properly awarded ...

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