APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. EDWARD
J. EGAN, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE SCHAEFER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
In an action under the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 110, par. 264 et seq.) the circuit court of Cook County affirmed a decision of the Board of Review of the Department of Labor of the State of Illinois. The claimant, Joe Wadlington, has appealed. The Board had determined that the claimant was ineligible to receive Illinois unemployment compensation benefits during two periods of unemployment. On both occasions he left jobs in Chicago, Illinois, and went to Oxford, Mississippi, where jobs were less plentiful than in Chicago. On this appeal, the claimant challenges the constitutionality of section 500C3 of the Illinois Unemployment Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 48, par. 420C3), which defines as ineligible for benefits an unemployed person who removes himself to a locality "where opportunities for work are substantially less favorable" than in the locality he left.
On June 24, 1966, the claimant quit his job as a roofer's helper with South Shore Sheet Metal Works in Chicago and went to Oxford. He told his employer that he was doing so in order to care for his mother, who lived in Oxford and had suffered a heart attack. His employer had previously granted him several leaves of absence from his job to be with his ailing mother, but on this occasion the claimant said that he wanted to terminate his employment. From the employer's objection to Wadlington's claim, it appears that the claimant's wife telephoned shortly thereafter to inquire whether he had drawn his pay check, and to ask where he had said he was going. Subsequently the claimant undertook to furnish a doctor's certificate concerning his mother's illness, but he did not do so. The claimant filed claims for unemployment compensation benefits under the Illinois Unemployment Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 48, par. 300 et seq.) for the week ending July 23, 1966, and for each subsequent weekly period through August 13, 1966. These claims were filed with an office of the Mississippi Employment Security Commission. The record shows that during the four-week period for which he sought benefits, he applied unsuccessfully for jobs with nine separate employers, all located in Oxford.
On his claim forms, Wadlington named Illinois as the liable State and South Shore Sheet Metal Works as his most recent employing unit. A deputy of the Illinois Division of Unemployment Compensation made a finding under section 701 of the Illinois Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 48, par. 451) that the claimant had been employed in Illinois long enough to entitle him, if otherwise qualified, to unemployment compensation, and also ruled that the claimant had left work for "good cause" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 48, par. 431). However, the deputy determined that the claimant was ineligible for benefits because under section 500C3 of the Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 48, par. 420C3), he had removed himself to "an area where opportunities for work are substantially less favorable than those in the area which he left." This determination was based upon the fact that the claimant had left the Chicago area, which had very good work opportunities and a shortage of labor, and had gone to an area where his chances of being hired were remote. It was also based upon the fact that he had restricted his search for employment solely to Oxford, a university town with a permanent population of approximately 5300 and a student population of approximately 8000. The claimant filed a notice of appeal from the deputy's decision, claiming that he had been available for work as far away as Memphis, Tennessee.
While this appeal was pending before a referee of the Illinois Division of Unemployment Compensation, the claimant returned to Chicago where he immediately obtained work as a machinist's helper with the Consolidated Welding Company. Three months later, on January 7, 1967, he slipped on the ice and fractured his ankle. As a result he was hospitalized in a Veterans' Administration hospital in Chicago for two weeks, after which he remained in Chicago without work for approximately three months until a cast was removed from his leg. He returned to Oxford for a short period, and then entered a Veterans' Administration hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, for further treatment of his ankle. After remaining for one week in that hospital, he was released on April 14, 1967, and returned to Oxford, where he had been born and raised. He made no effort to return to his job with the Consolidated Welding Company in Chicago because, he said, "I just decided to come home."
After about one month, when the claimant felt that he had sufficiently recovered from his injury, he again began seeking employment in Oxford. He sought work as a cook, a mechanic, a construction worker, and a laborer; in total he applied for 17 jobs in a six-weeks period. He failed, however, to seek a job in Grenada, Mississippi, a town 50 miles from Oxford with a population of about 10,000, where, according to a Mississippi official, there were good job prospects. He first indicated that he lacked transportation to get to Grenada, but later said that he could have borrowed his sister's or his father's car if a job had been available there. He stated that he had never been to Grenada, didn't know anyone there, and thought it would be a waste of time to go job hunting there unless he had a specific job offer. On September 14, 1967, he obtained a job as a janitor for a fraternity house on the University of Mississippi campus near Oxford.
While the claimant's first appeal was pending before the Illinois referee, he filed additional claims for Illinois unemployment compensation benefits for the week ending June 10, 1967, and for each subsequent weekly period through July 15, 1967. On the basis of an additional investigation, a deputy of the Illinois Division of Unemployment Compensation made the following determination: "Under Section 500C3 of the Illinois Unemployment Compensation Act he is considered to be unavailable for work because after his most recent employment with Consolidated Welding Co. he has removed himself to and remains in Oxford, Mississippi. This is an area where opportunities for work are substantially less favorable than those in the area which he left based on the following facts. Chicago has a low unemployment rate according to U.S. Area Trends in comparison to Oxford, Mississippi, where there are no job prospects for the claimant. He is unable to seek work in Grenada, Mississippi, where jobs for him as a cook are good since he does not have adequate transportation. Therefore, his availability is unduly restricted."
The claimant filed a notice of appeal from this determination, and the appeal was consolidated with his previous appeal. Thereafter, at the request of the Illinois referee, a hearing was held on September 7, 1967, before a hearing referee of the Mississippi Employment Security Commission in Grenada, Mississippi. On the basis of the transcript of this hearing and the entire record in the case, the Illinois referee affirmed the deputy's determination as to both of the periods for which Wadlington claimed benefits. The Board of Review of the Illinois Department of Labor affirmed that determination, and, as has been stated, in the claimant's administrative review action the circuit court also affirmed.
The primary purpose of the Illinois Unemployment Compensation Act is to relieve "economic distress caused by involuntary unemployment." (Illinois Bell Telephone Co. v. Board of Review, 413 Ill. 37, 43; see "Declaration of public policy", Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 48, par. 300.) Although the statute does not bar compensation in all cases in which unemployment is due to the voluntary act of the employee, it does exclude from benefits those employees whose voluntary unemployment falls within certain described categories. The claimant's first period of unemployment falls squarely within one of those categories. Section 500C7 of the Act provides: "An individual shall be deemed unavailable for work, if he has left work voluntarily to accompany or join a member or members of his family in another locality: (a) until the marital, filial, or other domestic circumstances which caused the individual to accompany or join such member or members of his family have ceased to exist; or (b) unless the individual is or has become the sole support of himself and of such member or members of his family; or * * * (e) until he has returned to the locality he left." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 48, par. 420.
Wadlington's claim and all of his testimony make it clear that he voluntarily left his employment in Chicago to join his mother in Oxford. Nowhere does the record suggest that he contributed in any way to her support during his period of unemployment, and he did not return to Chicago, where he obtained a job at once, until his mother's condition had substantially improved. Upon the undisputed facts in this record Wadlington's claim is barred by section 500C7.
The claimant argues that this ground of unavailability may not be asserted to defeat his claim because it is not the ground upon which the decision of the administrative agency was placed and because, although this ground was urged before the circuit court, that court did not expressly refer to it in affirming the ruling of the administrative agency. But the general rule that an appellate court should confine itself to issues raised in earlier proceedings is not a rigid or inflexible one, and, where injustice might otherwise result, a reviewing court may consider questions of law not passed upon by an administrative agency. (See Hormel v. Helvering (1941), 312 U.S. 552, 85 L.Ed. 1037, 61 S.Ct. 719; 42 Am. Jur. Public Administrative Law, sec. 236.) Application of such an exception in the circumstances of this case accords with the principle that a reviewing court is concerned primarily with the result reached by the trial court ruling and not with the reasons that court gives for the result it reached. Rabus v. Calcari, 16 Ill.2d 99, 102; Platz v. Walk, 3 Ill.2d 313, 318; Lunt v. Lorscheider, 285 Ill. 589; Hunt v. Mitchell, 409 Ill. 321, 327-28; cf. Ray Schools-Chicago-Inc. v. Cummins, 12 Ill.2d 376.
Different considerations are applicable to the claimant's second period of unemployment. On that occasion he left his job because he was physically unable to work due to the injury to his ankle. It is suggested that when he had recovered sufficiently to seek employment, after his periods of hospitalization and convalescence, he should have attempted to return to the job that he had held in Chicago at the time of his accident, and that in the absence of evidence that he did so, he cannot be regarded as having left his employment for "good cause". The record in this case, however, contains no evidence concerning the possibility of re-employment with the Consolidated Welding Company, and in the absence of such evidence we are unable to determine that good cause did not exist. With respect to this period of unemployment, therefore, we reach the constitutional issues raised by the claimant.
The intention of the act is to provide benefits for the unemployed person who is willing, anxious, and ready to accept suitable work at a point where there is an available labor market. (Mohler v. Department of Labor, 409 Ill. 79; Fleiszig v. Board of Review, 412 Ill. 49; Stricklin v. Annunzio, 413 Ill. 324.) To insure that a claimant's unemployment is truly involuntary, the General Assembly has prescribed in section 500 of the Unemployment Compensation Act certain terms and conditions which an unemployed individual must meet if he is to be eligible for benefits. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 48, par. 420.
The provision of section 500 which is directly involved is as follows: "An unemployed individual shall be eligible to receive benefits with respect to any week only if the Director finds that: * * * C. He is able to work, and is available for work; provided that during the period in question he was actively seeking work. * * * 3. An individual shall be deemed unavailable for work if, after his separation from his most recent employing unit, he has removed himself to and remains in a locality where ...