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Town of Elberta v. Alabama Department of Labor

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

June 26, 2015

Town of Elberta
v.
Alabama Department of Labor

          Appeal from Baldwin Circuit Court. (CV-14-900265).

         Thompson, P.J., and Pittman, Thomas, Moore, and Donaldson, JJ., concur.

          OPINION

Page 475

          PER CURIAM.

         Frederick Rouse was employed by the Town of Elberta (" the town" ) in 2009 as a police officer. The town terminated Rouse's employment on August 15, 2013. After his employment was terminated, Rouse sought, and was denied, unemployment-compensation benefits from the Alabama Department of Labor (" the department" ). Rouse appealed the denial of unemployment-compensation benefits to an administrative hearing officer (" AHO" ) for the department. The AHO reversed the initial denial and found that Rouse was eligible to receive benefits; the town's subsequent appeal to the department's Board of Appeals (" the board" ) was denied.

         The town filed an appeal of the board's decision in the Baldwin Circuit Court (" the trial court" ) on February 28, 2014; the department answered on April 4, 2014.[1] The trial court held a trial, at which it received evidence ore tenus, on September 29, 2014, see § 25-4-95, Ala. Code 1975 (providing for appeal to the circuit court in employment-compensation cases and stating that " [t]rial in the circuit court shall be de novo" ), and it entered a judgment in favor of the department on October 3, 2014, stating that the town had " failed to establish sufficient evidence to support the requirements under Ala. Code 1975, § 25-4-78, for disqualification of benefits." The town filed a motion to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment on November 3, 2014, which was denied by an order entered on November 18, 2014. The town timely filed a notice of appeal to this court on November 26, 2014. The town argues on appeal that the trial court's findings were contrary to the great weight of the evidence and that the trial court applied incorrect standards of law.

         We first note that the findings of a trial court in an unemployment-compensation case tried orally before a trial court, sitting without a jury, are presumed correct unless shown to be clearly contrary to the great weight of the evidence, see Adams v. Allen, 586 So.2d 17, 19 (Ala.Civ.App. 1991); however, the facts in the present case are essentially undisputed. " [O]n appeal, the ruling on a question of law carries no presumption of correctness, and this Court's review is de novo." Ex parte Graham, 702 So.2d 1215, 1221 (Ala. 1997) (citing Helms v. Helms' Kennels, Inc., 646 So.2d 1343 (Ala. 1994), and First Mercury Syndicate, Inc. v. Franklin Cnty., 623 So.2d 1075 (Ala. 1993)).

         Section 25-4-78, Ala. Code 1975, provides, in pertinent part:

" An individual shall be disqualified for total or partial unemployment:
" ....
" (3) Discharge For Misconduct.
" ....
" b. If he was discharged from his most recent bona fide work for actual or threatened misconduct committed in connection with his work ... repeated after previous warning to the individual. ..."

         The record indicates that, while working the night shift on June 16, 2013, Rouse was ...


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