Appeal by plaintiff from Kivett, Judge. Judgment entered 16 March 1981 in Superior Court, Davidson County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 9 March 1982.
Clark, Judge. Judges Arnold and Webb concur.
Plaintiff argues that the Superior Court erred in finding that the Commission properly applied the law to the facts and in affirming the Commission's decision. The scope of judicial review of appeals from decisions of the Employment Security Commission is a determination of whether the facts found by the Commission are supported by competent evidence and, if so, whether the findings support the conclusions of law. The reviewing court may not consider the evidence to find the facts itself. G.S. 96-15(i); In re Enoch, 36 N.C. App. 255, 243 S.E.2d 388 (1978).
Chapter 96 of the General Statutes provides for the contribution in prescribed amounts by employers to the Unemployment Insurance Fund on the wages of each employee. G.S. 96-8(6)k.15(ii) excludes from employment covered under the Employment Security Law services performed "by a duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed minister of a church in the exercise of his
ministry or by a member of a religious order in the exercise of duties required by such order; . . ."
The key to a decision on this appeal lies in the interpretation of the statutory phrase "in the exercise of his ministry." More specifically, the question is whether the fact that an individual is an ordained minister sets him apart from others who are not ordained but are employed in the same job as the minister.
The Commission stated in its decision that:
"Although it may be true that an ordained minister is particularly well suited to perform duties as a house parent, the Home does not require that a house parent be ordained and no difference in duties as a house parent flows from the status of the house parent as an ordained minister. The Commission is not persuaded that the mere ordination of an individual as a minister transforms any type of services performed for an employer into exempt services under the Employment Security Law of North Carolina, ipso facto. The employee here is not acting in the 'exercise of his ministry' but was specifically hired to perform the function of a house parent."
G.S. 96-8(6)k.15(ii) has not previously been interpreted by our courts. Plaintiff, however, urges us to follow the line of decisions which have interpreted similar federal unemployment compensation laws, since the North Carolina Employment Security Law is based upon federal statutes and was enacted as a part of a cooperative plan between federal and state governments. Under the plan, each state collects a state unemployment tax which it remits to the federal government. The federal government then returns the state revenues along with a federal subsidy to pay unemployment claims made by employees in the state. In order to remain eligible for the federal program, the state must comply with the standards set out in the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (26 U.S.C. § 3301 et seq.). Ascension Lutheran Church v Employment Sec., 501 F. Supp. 843 (W.D.N.C. 1980).
Our courts have held that in interpreting the Employment Security Law serious consideration is to be given to the construction placed upon the federal statute. Employment Security comm. v. Freight Lines, 248 N.C. 496, 103 S.E.2d 829 (1958).
However, the State has the right, through its courts, to make the final interpretation of its own legislation, and neither the ruling of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue nor that of the Employment Security Commission is conclusive. Unemployment ...