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AGO 1949 No. 152 - November 03, 1949
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION BENEFITS -- AUTHORITY OF COMMISSIONER TO RECONSIDER

Commissioner of Employment Security Department authorized to reconsider determinations denying unemployment compensation benefits.

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                                                                November 3, 1949

Honorable J. H. Robertson
Commissioner
Employment Security Department
State of Washington
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 152

Dear Mr. Robertson:

            You have inquired concerning the extent of your authority as Commissioner of the Employment Security Department to reconsider determinations denying unemployment compensation benefits when such determinations have not been appealed from by the benefit claimants within the time prescribed by law and no new facts are available nor were any facts omitted at the time of the original determinations of denial.

            The opinion of this office may be summarized as follows:

            The Commissioner of the Employment Security Department may pursuant to the provisions of Section 84, Chapter 35, Laws of 1945 [§ 9998-222, Rem. Supp. 1945], correct mistakes of law or fact without the necessity of obtaining additional facts and thereby reverse original determinations denying benefits from which determinations benefit claimants have failed to appeal.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Your inquiry concerns the construction to be given § 84, Chapter 35, Laws of 1945 [§ 9998-222, Rem Supp. 1945] which provides:

            "Redetermination.  The Commissioner may reconsider an initial determination or a determination of denial of benefits whenever he finds  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] that there has been an error in identity computation, or statement of amount of wages earned, or an error or omission with respect to the facts, or in order to comply with a final court decision applicable to an initial determination or determination of denial of benefits.  Written notice of any such redetermination shall be promptly given by mail or delivered to such interested parties as were notified of the initial determination or determination of denial of benefits and any new interested party or parties who, pursuant to such regulation as the Commissioner may prescribe, would be an interested party.  No such redetermination shall be so construed, however, as to permit the recovery of any benefits except in accordance with the provisions of this act relating to recovery of benefit payments."  (Emphasis ours).

            The Unemployment Compensation Act was enacted for the purpose of alleviating the hardships occasioned by involuntary unemployment, § 2, Chapter 35, Laws of 1945 [§ 9998-141, Rem. Supp. 1945], the Preamble of the Act, in part providing:

            "* * * The legislature, therefore, declares that in its considered judgment the public good and the general welfare of the citizens of this state require the enactment of this measure, under the police powers of the state, for the compulsory setting aside of unemployment reserves to be used for the benefit of persons unemployed through no fault of their own, and that this act shall be liberally construed for the purpose of reducing involuntary unemployment and the suffering caused thereby to the minimum."  (Emphasis ours).

            Obviously the Legislature intended the Unemployment Compensation Act to be liberally construed for the purpose of reducing the suffering caused by involuntary unemployment, and such declaration by the Legislature furnishes the rule of construction to be applied to all provisions of the statute which concern that purpose.  Isutakawa v. Kumamoto, 53 Wash. 231, 101 P. 869.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Undoubtedly § 84, Chapter 35, Laws of 1945 [§ 9998-222, Rem. Supp. 1945], quoted supra, was enacted for the purpose of preventing improper denial of unemployment compensation benefits to those rightfully entitled to the same, thus carrying out the purpose for which the Employment Security Department was created, giving a full exposition of the legislative intent which should be upheld as being germane to the law, 42 Am.Jur., Public Administrative Law, § 26.

            It is conceded that as a general proposition administrative agencies have no authority to reverse previous determinations which have become finalKnestis, et al. v. U.C.&P. Division, 16 Wn. (2d) 577, 134 P. (2d) 76; however, administrative officers do have the authority to reverse previous determinations when the same is conferred by statute and such authority should be liberally construed, 42 Am.Jur., Public Administrative Law, § 175.  Clearly such authority is conferred upon the Commissioner of the Employment Security Department by the provisions of § 84, Chapter 35, Laws of 1945 [§ 9998-222, Rem. Supp. 1945].  Such statute, being free from ambiguity, does not permit construction,Featherstone v. Dessert, 173 Wash. 264; 22 P. (2d) 1050;Ernst v. Kootros, 196 Wash. 138, 82 P. (2d) 126, and Smith v. Department of Labor and Industries, 8 Wn. (2d) 587, 113 P. (2d) 57.  Therefore, the term "error" contained therein, concerning which you inquire, should be given its ordinary meaning.  The word "error" is defined by Webster's International Dictionary, 2nd Edition, in the following language:

            "* * * An act involving a departure from truth or accuracy; a deviation from, or failure to achieve, the right course or standard; a mistake; * * * A mistake in the proceedings of a court of record in matters of law or of fact.  * * *"

            Applying the ordinary meaning of the word "error" and the rule of liberal construction to the statute, there is no question but that the Commissioner of the Employment Security Department has the authority to correct mistakes of law or fact when the same pertain to the facts previously adduced at the time of the original determination.  Also, as provided by § 84, Chapter 35, Laws of 1945 [§ 9998-222, Rem. Supp. 1945], the Commissioner may, of course, reconsider determinations which have denied benefits when there have been omissions with respect to the facts and other reasons outlined in that statute.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            We are, therefore, of the opinion that the Commissioner of the Employment Security Department may pursuant to the provisions of § 84, Chapter 35, Laws of 1945 [§ 9998-222, Rem. Supp. 1945], correct mistakes of law or fact without the necessity of obtaining additional facts and thereby reverse original determinations denying benefits from which determinations benefit claimants have failed to appeal.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

WILLIAM J. MILLARD, JR.
Assistant Attorney General

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