The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McNAMARA
APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY
HONORABLE JOANNE L. LANIGAN, JUDGE PRESIDING.
Plaintiff Maria Jaime filed this action for administrative review in the circuit court against defendants Director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), Board of Review of the Illinois Department of Employment Security (Board of Review), and Ed Miniat, Inc. (Miniat), seeking reversal of the Board of Review's decision to affirm the IDES referee's decision to deny Jaime's claim for unemployment insurance benefits based on a finding of ineligibility. (The IDES referee's decision had affirmed an IDES claims adjudicator's earlier determination that plaintiff was ineligible for unemployment benefits.) The Board of Review found that Jaime had voluntarily terminated her employment without good cause attributable to her employer. The circuit court reversed the Board of Review's decision as being against the manifest weight of the evidence and entered judgment in favor of Jaime. It is from this judgment that the Director of IDES and the Board of Review of IDES (hereinafter collectively referred to as defendants) appeal. Miniat is not a party to this appeal.
On appeal, defendants contend that the circuit court erred in finding that the Board of Review's decision to deny Jaime unemployment insurance benefits because she voluntarily left work without good cause attributable to her employer was against the manifest weight of the evidence. For the reasons stated below, we affirm. The undisputed facts relevant to this case are as follows.
Jaime worked for Miniat for approximately 10 years, and for the duration of her employment there, she resided at 2307 South Marshall Boulevard in Chicago. In December 1995, Miniat moved its place of business from 38th Street and Halsted Street in Chicago to 16250 South Dakin in South Holland, a distance of 16 miles. Following Miniat's move, Jaime continued to work for the company for about six weeks. (Defendants state in their brief that this period was two months.) On February 11, 1996, Jaime applied for unemployment compensation benefits, and on February 13, 1996, she resigned from Miniat.
Miniat filed a protest of Jaime's claim on February 28, 1996, stating that Jaime was not entitled to benefits because she had left work voluntarily. On March 14, 1996, Jaime informed the claims adjudicator that she had left Miniat due to a lack of transportation. On March 16, 1996, the claims adjudicator denied her claim for benefits, finding that Jaime had "voluntarily left work without good cause attributable to [her] employer." Jaime requested reconsideration of the claims adjudicator's determination, stating that she had left her job due to a lack of transportation after her employer moved close to Indiana.
On April 25, 1996, a hearing was held before a referee regarding Jaime's eligibility for benefits. At that hearing, Jaime appeared pro se and was accompanied by a Spanish translator. Miniat was represented by Danielle Satelius of the company's human resources department. At the hearing, the referee asked a total of seven non-routine questions. Jaime testified that she had worked for Miniat for 10 years and that, during the preceding December, the company had moved from 38th Street and Halsted Street in Chicago to 16250 South Dakin in South Holland. Jaime stated that following Miniat's move, she continued to work for the company, obtaining a ride with a co-worker. She asserts that she resigned from Miniat on February 13, however, because the co-worker with whom she had been getting a ride had stopped working for the company and Jaime therefore had no means of getting to work. The entire transcript of the hearing is 2 1/2 pages long.
The referee issued a decision on April 26, 1996, affirming the decision of the claims adjudicator and denying Jaime unemployment insurance benefits. The referee found that Jaime "voluntarily left her job because she lost her means of transportation to get to work."
Thereafter, Jaime retained counsel. On May 8, 1996, she requested review of the referee's decision by the Board of Review. On August 14, 1996, the Board of Review issued its decision, affirming the referee's decision and concluding that Jaime had properly been denied unemployment insurance benefits, because she had left work due to transportation problems, which were not attributable to her employer. The Board did not provide an analysis supporting its Conclusion.
On August 23, 1996, Jaime filed her complaint for administrative review of the Board of Review's decision pursuant to section 3-101 et seq. of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code)(735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 1994)). She also filed a memorandum of law in support of said complaint, wherein she asked the trial court to take judicial notice of the approximate 16- mile distance between Miniat's former and current locations. On February 6, 1997, the circuit court issued an order, reversing the Board of Review's decision, finding it contrary to law. The court, stating that it was making its determination on a case-by-case basis, declared that it would have been too great a burden on Jaime to have required her to take public transportation to Miniat's new location. The court concluded that it found the Board of Review's decision "contrary to law in this particular case only" and that it reached this decision because it was aware that Jaime did not drive.
The main purpose of the Unemployment Insurance Act (Act) is to alleviate the economic insecurity and burden caused by involuntary unemployment. 820 ILCS 405/100 (West 1994); Jones v. Department of Employment Security, 276 Ill. App. 3d 281, 657 N.E.2d 1141 (1995). "The Act is intended to benefit only those persons who become unemployed through no fault of their own." Jones, 276 Ill. App. 3d at 284, 657 N.E.2d at 1144. Section 601(A) of the Act therefore provides that "[a]n individual shall be ineligible for benefits [because] he has left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employing unit." 820 ILCS 405/601(A) (West 1994); Jones, 276 Ill. App. 3d at 284, 657 N.E.2d at 1144.
"The findings and Conclusions of an administrative agency on questions of fact [are] held to be prima facie true and correct." 735 ILCS 5/3-110 (West 1994). It is well settled that such findings will not be disturbed by a reviewing court unless they are found to be against the manifest weight of the evidence. Jones, 276 Ill. App. 3d 281, 657 N.E.2d 1141. "An administrative decision is against the manifest weight of the evidence only when, after viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the agency, the court determines that no rational trier of fact could have agreed with the agency's decision." Jones, 276 Ill. App. 3d at 284, 657 N.E.2d at 1144, citing County of Will v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 220 Ill. App. 3d 62, 65, 580 N.E.2d 887 (1991). Where the evidence supports fairly the action of the administrative agency, the decision is considered not to be against the manifest weight of the evidence and must be sustained on review. Jones, 276 Ill. App. 3d 281, 657 N.E.2d 1141."However, as deferential as this standard of review is, it `does not permit Illinois courts to automatically place a stamp of approval on the findings merely because [the] agency heard the witnesses and made the requisite findings.'" Jones, 276 Ill. App. 3d at 285, 657 N.E.2d at 1144, quoting Viera v. Illinois Racing Board, 65 Ill. App. 3d 94, 99, 382 N.E.2d 462 (1978). Thus, "`when an administrative order is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence, it is the duty of the appellate court to affirm the action of the circuit court in setting the order aside.'" Jones, 276 Ill. App. 3d at 285, 657 N.E.2d at 1144, quoting Gee v. Board of Review, 136 Ill. App. 3d 889, 895, 483 N.E.2d 1025 (1985).
"While unemployment insurance benefits are a conditional right and the burden of establishing eligibility rests with the claimant, the Act must be liberally construed to favor the awarding of benefits." Kiefer v. Department of Employment Security, 266 Ill. App. 3d 1057, 1061, 640 N.E.2d 1252, 1255 (1994).
Turning to the present case, we must first set forth the standard of review. Jaime asserts that a de novo standard of review is to be applied, since the facts of this case are undisputed and the question involved, she alleges, is one of law, as it concerns statutory interpretation. We disagree. Although the facts are undisputed, we find that the question with which we are presented, whether Jaime's inability to maintain her employment after her employer relocated constitutes "good cause attributable to [her] employer" pursuant to section 601(A) of the Act (820 ILCS 405/601(A)(West 1994)), is a question of fact. Thus, the ...