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Admasu v. 7-11 Food Store # 11731g/21926d

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

January 29, 2015

GIRMA W. ADMASU, PETITIONER,
v.
7-11 FOOD STORE # 11731G/21926D, RESPONDENT

Submitted: November 25, 2014.

Page 358

Petition for Review of an Order of the. District of Columbia Office of Administrative Hearings.(DOES-1325-13).

Christopher A. Bates, Drake Hagner, Jennifer Mezey, and John C. Keeney, Jr., were on the brief for petitioner.

Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and MCLEESE, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 359

King, Senior Judge:

Petitioner, Girma Admasu, seeks review of a Final Order issued by the Office of Administrative Hearings (" OAH" ) on August 19, 2013, dismissing his appeal for lack of jurisdiction from a claim filed at the Department of Employment Services (" DOES" ) denying him unemployment benefits. Admasu argues that his case meets the standard for excusable neglect and the Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) abused her discretion in holding that there was no excusable neglect to warrant an extension of the fifteen-day deadline. We agree that the ALJ abused her discretion by not adequately considering all of the relevant factors for making a proper determination of excusable neglect. We remand the case for a determination consistent with this opinion.

I. FACTS

On March 15, 2013, Admasu applied for unemployment benefits after he was fired from his job at the 7-11 Food Store for refusing to return to work. After one week, Admasu followed up on his claim with DOES. On April 24, 2013 Admasu left the country on a sudden trip to Ethiopia to care for his sick parents, who eventually died. On May 10, 2013, while Admasu was still in Ethiopia, DOES mailed a " Determination to Claimant" letter and " D.C. Code and Notice of Appeal Right" form denying Admasu's claim for unemployment benefits and notifying him of the right to appeal within fifteen days under D.C. Code § 51-111 (b).

Admasu's wife, who was " newly in this country," remained at the couple's residence in the United States and monitored his mail. She received the letter and informed him via telephone that his claim had been denied; however, she did not communicate to him the information concerning the notice of appeal and the fifteen-day deadline to appeal. See D.C. Code § 51-111 (b).[1] The determination letter and notice of appeal were both written in English. Admasu's native language is Amharic and at that time he and his wife had little understanding of the English language. Admasu returned from Ethiopia on July 21, 2013. Admasu went to the DOES office on July 23, 2013, where he was provided a copy of the May 10th letter and advised that he could appeal the determination to OAH. Admasu filed an appeal that same day.

On August 14, 2013, a hearing was held at OAH. There was no representation for the former employer, but Admasu was present and assisted by an Amharic interpreter. In order to establish jurisdiction to hear the case, the ALJ examined Admasu about his untimely filing of the appeal.

Page 360

Admasu informed the ALJ that his trip to Ethiopia was sudden due to the circumstances concerning his parents? health, thus he did not notify DOES of his departure. When asked if he had internet access to check the status of his claim online, Admasu stated that he had checked the internet twice while he was in Ethiopia, but had also told " family" to check the status. He testified that three weeks into the trip, his wife notified him that DOES had denied his claim. Admasu claimed that he had no knowledge of the appeals process or fifteen-day deadline and that his wife was " new to the country" and didn't understand " enough English" to comprehend the notice of appeal. He stated that the first time he had learned of the appeals process was at the July 23rd visit to DOES. The ALJ told Admasu that he should have informed DOES that he was leaving the country or should have left someone in charge who could act on his behalf. The ALJ also stated that Admasu received the news of the denial while he was in Ethiopia and should've taken ...


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