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Appeal of Aspen Contracting Ne

August 21, 2012

APPEAL OF ASPEN CONTRACTING NE, LLC (NEW HAMPSHIRE DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY)


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hicks, J.

a.m. on the morning of their release. The direct address of the court's home page is: http://www.courts.state.nh.us/supreme.

Department of Employment Security

Submitted: June 13, 2012

The petitioner, Aspen Contracting NE, LLC (Aspen), appeals the decisions of the Administrative Hearing Committee (Committee) and the Appeal Tribunal for the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security (DES), as both were sustained by the DES Appellate Board, finding the claimants to be employees and Aspen to be an employer in New Hampshire subject to RSA chapter 282-A. We affirm.

The record supports the following facts. Aspen is a Delaware limited liability company with a place of business in Houston, Texas. It uses the trade name "Noble Logistics," and is in the business of providing logistical consulting services to clients for the distribution and delivery of Aspen's clients' products. Aspen does not have an office in New Hampshire.

Aspen contracted with PharMerica, a pharmaceutical company with a place of business in Concord, to deliver its products to jails, nursing homes and long-term care facilities located in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Aspen retains drivers to deliver PharMerica's products. Each driver enters into what is entitled an "independent contractor agreement" with Aspen, and must first pass a background check, drug test, and motor vehicle records check before delivering PharMerica's products. The claimants, Michael Bishop- Chapman, Steven Eastman, and Mark Trumble, each entered into a contractual relationship with Aspen on October 1, 2008, June 10, 2009, and October 12, 2009, respectively.

On October 7, 2009, Aspen terminated Bishop-Chapman's contract after he failed to obtain Aspen's permission to have another Aspen-approved driver cover his delivery route. Trumble's contract was terminated on December 6, 2009, after he declined to complete his route due to a snowstorm. Eastman suspended his contract on October 23, 2009, prior to surgery, and did not return thereafter to deliver for Aspen. Each claimant filed for unemployment benefits.

In early 2010, DES found that each of the claimants had earned wages in employment from Aspen that constituted annual earnings for purposes of entitlement to unemployment compensation. It further found that the claimants' services did not meet the requirements for the exemption provided in RSA 282-A:9, III (2010), which provides a tripartite test for determining whether a worker is exempt from the definition of employment. Aspen appealed DES's determinations to the Committee and the Appeal Tribunal. In each case, the Committee and the Appeal Tribunal also found that the claimants were entitled to unemployment compensation. After requests for reopening were denied, Aspen appealed to the DES Appellate Board, at which point the cases were consolidated.

The Appellate Board sustained the decisions of the Committee and the Appeal Tribunal. It found that Aspen's rights had not been prejudiced by the findings, inferences, conclusions or the decisions of the Committee or the Appeal Tribunal. This appeal followed.

Judicial review of DES decisions is controlled by RSA 282-A:67, II (2010), which specifies the procedure for appealing "a final decision of the [A]ppeal [T]ribunal as reversed, modified, or affirmed by the [A]ppellate [B]oard." Because the Appellate Board in this case "neither clarified nor limited" the Committee's or the Appeal Tribunal's record or determination, "but simply sustained it, we confine our review to the findings and rulings of the" Committee and the Appeal Tribunal. Appeal of First Student, 153 N.H. 682, 684 (2006). In reviewing decisions under RSA 282-A:67, we will not substitute our judgment for that of the Appeal Tribunal or the Committee as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. See RSA 282-A:67, V (2010); Appeal of First Student, 153 N.H. at 684. "Furthermore, we will uphold the department's decision unless its findings or conclusions were unauthorized, affected by an error of law, or clearly erroneous in view of all the evidence presented." Appeal of First Student, 153 N.H. at 684-85 (quotation omitted); see RSA 282-A:67, V.

"The purpose of our unemployment compensation statute, RSA ch[apter] 282-A, is to prevent the spread of unemployment and to lighten the burden on those workers who are involuntarily unemployed through no fault of their own." Appeal of Boudreault, 123 N.H. 332, 333 (1983). RSA 282-A:9, I (2010) broadly defines "employment" to mean "service, including service in interstate commerce, performed for wages or under any contract of hire, written or oral, expressed or implied, together with service performed within the state which constitutes 'employment' under the provisions of the Federal Unemployment Tax Act." RSA 282-A:9, I; see Appeal of John Hancock Distributors, 146 N.H. 124, 126 (2001).

Aspen argues that the claimants are not employees based upon the exemption provided in RSA 282-A:9, III. Under RSA 282-A:9, III:

Services performed by an individual for wages shall be deemed to be employment subject to this chapter unless and until it is shown to the satisfaction of the commissioner of the department of employment security that:

(a) Such individual has been and will continue to be free from control or direction over the performance of such services, both under his ...


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