APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR
L. DUNNE, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE WILSON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Defendants appeal from the trial court's judgment which reversed an administrative decision denying plaintiff's request to antedate her claim for extended Federal unemployment compensation. The broad issue is whether the defendant agency abused its discretion in denying plaintiff's claim. Because we find that the agency did not err, we reverse the trial court.
In January of 1977 plaintiff, Delores Quinones, was laid off from her job. She applied for and received unemployment compensation benefits for the maximum of 26 weeks. After exhausting these State benefits she applied for Federal extended benefits pursuant to the Federal-State Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 1970, Public Law 91-373, title II (August 10, 1970), amended by the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act of 1974, Public Law 93-572 (December 31, 1974); see notes following 26 U.S.C.A. § 3304, at 351-53 (West 1979). The extended benefit program in Illinois provides that claimants who have exhausted their 26 week maximum of State-funded benefits may apply for an additional 13 weeks of unemployment compensation. These extended benefits are available in two situations: (1) when Federal officials determine that the national rate of unemployment for the preceding 12 weeks has equaled or exceeded 4.5 percent, or (2) when the State rate of unemployment equals or exceeds 5 percent during a 13-week period. (See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 48, par. 409(A)(11).) When either of these situations occur, an "indicator" is turned on and must remain on for 13 consecutive weeks.
When plaintiff applied for extended Federal benefits the indicator was on, but in January 1978, the indicator turned off. Concerned that she had stopped receiving checks, plaintiff returned to her local Division of Unemployment Insurance office (DUI). There, she was told that she would not receive any further benefits. At the time, she had not received the full 13 weeks of extended benefits.
On April 30, 1978, the indicator switched on again. At that time the DUI sent notices to persons it believed were eligible for extended benefits. The DUI determined, however, that claimants who had received some benefits before the indicator went off in January 1978 were ineligible to receive further extended benefits. (DUI Benefit Section Bulletin 1258, Supp. 9 (April 26, 1978).) Consequently, plaintiff and other claimants similarly situated did not receive a letter of notification.
Thereafter, a lawsuit was filed against officials of the Illinois Department of Labor. (See Lackey v. Bowling (N.D. Ill. 1979), 476 F. Supp. 1111. ) The plaintiff class included persons who, like Delores Quinones, did not receive notification in June of their potential eligibility for further benefits. Before a trial was held, however, the parties settled because the United States Department of Labor's Associate Regional Administrator for Unemployment Insurance informed the Illinois defendants that they had interpreted Federal law incorrectly. The Illinois Department of Labor agreed to change its policy, and the parties entered a stipulation to dismiss the lawsuit. In pertinent part, the stipulation provided:
"Defendants agree that all members of the putative plaintiff class who report to their local office and are determined eligible for extended unemployment insurance benefits and who would have received extended benefits after April 30, 1978, but for the policy and practice challenged in the present case, will receive such extended benefits." Lackey v. Bowling (N.D. Ill. 1979), 476 F. Supp. 1111, 1114-15.
Pursuant to this agreement, the DUI sent letters to plaintiff and other members of the Lackey class. At the top of the letter, indented and set off from the text, was the caption "Important Notice About Your Unemployment Benefits." The first paragraph of the letter explained that "due to a new federal interpretation of the eligibility criteria for the extended benefits program," the party named therein might be eligible to receive benefits for the weeks following April 30, 1978. It further told claimants to report to their local office on a certain day. Plaintiff's letter, dated June 30, 1978, told her to report on Wednesday, July 12, at 1 p.m. The letter was properly addressed to 2835 W. 23rd Street but was delivered to 2835 W. 23rd Place. Plaintiff did not actually receive the letter until late July or August, after the July 12, 1978, appointment had passed. Moreover, plaintiff did not understand the letter because she is Spanish-speaking and cannot read English. Consequently, plaintiff did not act upon the notice until October 3, 1978, after she had spoken to persons from the Legal Assistance Foundation office on Blue Island Avenue in Chicago. At the DUI office, a claims adjudicator denied her request to antedate her benefits claim to April 30, 1978, the time when the program resumed in Illinois. The denial was based on plaintiff's failure to bring her antedation claim within the scope of DUI Regulation 17F. Plaintiff appealed this decision to a referee and finally to the Board of Review, both of whom affirmed the claims adjudicator's decision. Subsequently, plaintiff appealed to the Circuit Court of Cook County, pursuant to the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, pars. 264 through 279). After considering briefs and argument, the trial court reversed the Board's decision. Defendants then brought this appeal from the trial court's judgment.
Regulation 17F, which was adopted by the Illinois Department of Labor pursuant to section 700 of the Unemployment Insurance Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 48, par. 450), allows a claimant, in certain circumstances, to file a late claim and have it antedated to the proper week. It provides as follows:
When an individual files a claim or reports with respect to a week not later than one year after the first day of the week, such claim may be antedated to the first day of the week, or the individual may be deemed to have reported on his report day for the week, as the case may be, in any instance in which failure to file or report at an earlier time is established by the individual to be due to
1. The individual's unawareness of his rights under the Act, or
2. Failure either of the employing unit or of the Division of Unemployment Insurance to discharge its responsibilities or obligations ...