Jack Nelson Jones Professional Association
March 11-17, 2019
Bugg v. Director of Workforce Services, et al., 2019 Ark. App. 137 (February 27, 2019)
Appellant Danny Bugg brought this action appealing his denial of unemployment benefits from the City of Hot Springs. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the Board of Workforce Services to make specific findings and a ruling on one of the key issues raised in Bugg’s appeal. (Editor’s Note: This case could stand as a caveat for the proposition that one should be careful about what one wishes for, especially in writings directed to supervisors.)
Bugg was employed by the City of Hot Springs (“the City”) as the City’s Animal Control Services (ACS) supervisor. Bugg began his employment in 1999. In 2012, the City placed ACS under the supervision of the Hot Springs Police Department. In 2016, David Frasher became the new city manager. Sometime thereafter, Bugg became concerned with the manner in which ACS was being managed. He expressed his concerns to the chief of police, Jason Stachey. Chief Stachey and Bugg were unable to resolve these concerns to Bugg’s satisfaction. In response, Bugg sent an email to Chief Stachey and Assistant Chief Chris Chapmond, dated September 8, 2017, writing in pertinent part:
After much thought and reflection I find that my first duty to myself is to be honest. . . . Looking at my calendar, it appears Friday, January 5th, of 2018 would be as prime a day to make my exit from the City of Hot Springs. This is NOT my retirement, quite frankly I feel there is much more I can do in this field of work. I simply am unable to continue in a format where the likelihood of this department stepping into operational failure appears to be the path we will embark upon beginning next year. . . . This date is tentative, however [it] seems the most logical time to move forward.
In an email dated September 12, 2017, Chief Stachey informed Bugg that he would “accept [the email] as your official letter of intent to retire.” Bugg responded the next day, protesting that his September 8, 2017 email had not been an expression of his intent to retire. From that point on, Bugg expanded his communications with Chief Stachey, to include City Manager Frasher, the mayor of Hot Springs, and the City’s board of directors. In his communications, Bugg continued to dispute that his September 8, 2017 email had been intended as an expression of his intent to retire.
Bugg also suggested that the City had not followed proper authority regarding an employee’s retirement process if the City had correctly interpreted Bugg’s initial email as an intent to part ways with the City. Specifically, Bugg questioned whether Chief Stachey had the legal authority to interpret Bugg’s intent in the September 8 email and asserted that only the board of directors had the “supreme executive authority” to interpret an employee’s intent with respect to the termination of his or her employment. Bugg was eventually relieved of his duties in December 2017, but the City continued to pay Bugg until January 5, 2018, the date Bugg cited in his original email to Chief Stachey.
Bugg thereafter sought unemployment benefits. The Department of Workforce Services (“the Department”) denied his application, finding that he quit his job because he was “dissatisfied with changes that had been made. An evaluation of the facts shows [Bugg] left [his] work voluntarily and without good cause connected with the work.” The Department thus concluded that Bugg was disqualified from receiving benefits pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-10-513(a)(1) (Repl. 2012).
Bugg appealed to the Tribunal, asserting that (1) he had not intended to retire; (2) the chief of police lacked the authority to interpret his intent; and (3) therefore, his unemployment was not voluntary within the meaning of the law. The Tribunal held a telephone hearing where Bugg and Chief Stachey testified. Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the Tribunal concluded that Bugg voluntarily quit his job without good cause.
Bugg timely appealed the Tribunal’s decision to the Board and again submitted a legal memorandum on the issues of his intent and Chief Stachey’s authority to interpret his intent. The Board affirmed the Tribunal’s decision, finding that Bugg’s email indicated that his last day of work would be January 5, 2018, and his employer reasonably interpreted and accepted the email as “an end to the employment relationship.” The Board thus concluded that Bugg had not shown that he “quit for reasons that would impel the average, able-bodied worker to quit under similar circumstances,” which he had to show under the Arkansas Code. The Board did not, however, address Bugg’s arguments concerning his employer’s authority to take the actions that it did, in the manner it did. Bugg timely appealed.
The Court of Appeals noted that Bugg’s appeal was based largely on his argument that he was “involuntarily unemployed because officials of [the City] acted without lawful authority.” The Court of Appeals found that Bugg consistently raised this argument before both the Tribunal and the Board, that this was an important part of his argument, but because the argument was not ruled on at the administrative-agency level, the Court would not decide the question for the first time on appeal. Therefore, because the Board failed to rule on Bugg’s arguments concerning the City’s authority, and those arguments went to the heart of Bugg’s contention that he did not quit without good cause, the Court remanded the case for the Board to address all of Bugg’s arguments previously brought in a timely manner.
The Court also put Bugg on notice that those appearing before the Court pro se (without counsel) were required to adhere to the Rules as a licensed attorney would. The Court found that Bugg’s submitted abstract was “flagrantly deficient” and failed to abstract all material information included in the transcript of his hearing before the Appeal Tribunal. (The transcript was noted to have consisted of 52 pages, while Bugg’s abstract was only five pages long in total and omitted numerous pages of Bugg’s own testimony.) While the Court did not order rebriefing before ruling, it did note that any future pleadings by Bugg must meet the requirements set out in the Rules to be considered. For the reasons stated herein the Court of Appeals remanded the case for further finding by the Board.