Meeting Filing Deadline Rules Only Requirement for Court to Consider Unemployment Compensation Appeal
Filing a notice of appeal on time is the only requirement needed to contest an Unemployment Compensation Review Commission decision, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.
In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court rejected a claim by the state that an Akron man failed to name all the interested parties on the appeal and that left the Summit County Common Pleas Court without jurisdiction to hear his appeal. Writing for the majority, Justice Judith L. French also found the commission failed to strictly comply with procedural requirements and needed to reissue its order to Marcus Pryor so that he may pursue his appeal if he wishes.
In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor stated that naming all the interested parties is a requirement for the contents of the notice of appeal that Pryor failed to follow, and that he and the commission should be held to the same standard of strict compliance during the appeals process. Additionally, she noted the majority created a requirement for the contents of the commission’s notice of a written decision that was not found in the statute.
Soldier Challenges Unemployment Repayment Ruling
In 2011, Pryor enlisted in the U.S. Army for a four-year term as a combat medic. The Army honorably discharged him in August 2012, before completion of his full term of service so that he could enter an officer’s training program. Pryor applied that month to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) for unemployment compensation. ODJFS’s Office of Unemployment Compensation determined he was eligible for benefits, but the Army’s Human Resources Command appealed, and ODJFS reversed its original decision. In April 2013, the commission ordered Pryor to return $10,800 in overpaid benefits.
Pryor appealed to the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission, and a commission hearing officer heard the case. The Army did not participate in the hearing. The hearing officer affirmed the decision that Pryor was overpaid and Pryor requested the commission review the officer’s findings. The commission denied the request and issued a decision informing Pryor that he could appeal its finding in a common pleas court.
In the “Appeal Rights” section of the notice to Pryor, the commission informed him he “must name all interested parties as appellees in the notice of the appeal” including the ODJFS director. The same section informed him he had 30 days from the mailing of decision to file an appeal. The decision concluded with a notice that the decision was sent to Pryor, the ODJFS director, and the Army, and listed their addresses.
Court Denies Jurisdiction to Hear Appeal
Pryor filed his appeal within the required 30 days from the decision and he listed the name of the ODJFS director as the appellee, but he did not name the Army as a party to his appeal. He did file a separate request for the clerk of courts to serve his notice of appeal on the ODJFS and the Army. At ODJFS’s request, the trial court dismissed the appeal finding that Pryor failed to name the Army as an interested party and his appeal did not comply with appeal process rules. Because he did not follow the rules, the court indicated it had no jurisdiction to consider his appeal.
Pryor appealed the trial court’s dismissal to the Ninth District Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court and concluded that Pryor’s failure to name his former employer was not a defect that prevented the court from having the jurisdiction to hear his case. The Ninth District also certified its decision was in conflict with other state appeals courts that ruled naming all the parties was required. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
Appeal Process Presented in Five-Part Law
“When a statute confers a right of appeal, the appeal can be perfected only in the mode the statute prescribes,” Justice French wrote citing the Court’s 1949 Zier v. Bur. Of Unemp. Comp. decision.
She explained the Court needed to determine if R.C. 4141.282 requires naming all interested parties in the notice of appeal in order to give a trial court the right to hear the case. The law has five divisions - R.C. 4141.282(A) through (E) - describing the appeal. The first two divisions list the deadline to file and where to file. R.C. 4141.282(C) is titled “Perfecting the Appeal.” It states: “The timely filing of the notice of appeal shall be the only act required to perfect the appeal and vest jurisdiction in the court. The notice of appeal shall identify the decision appealed from.”
The following division, R.C. 4141.282(D), includes the requirement that the “appellant shall name all interested parties as appellees in the notice of appeal.” The final division instructs the clerk of courts to provide the notice of appeal to the parties.
Justice French wrote the starting point is division (C) because it addresses the procedure for perfecting the appeal, and that when a statute is plain and unambiguous on its face, the court must assume the General Assembly means what it said.
“Here, the General Assembly has clearly stated in R.C. 4141.282(C) that the timely filing of the notice of appeal is the ‘only’ jurisdictional requirement for perfecting an appeal. The word ‘only’ means just that,” she wrote.
The state had argued the “shall” in division (D) imposed an additional requirement that all parties must be named before the court can hear the case.
“This reading, however, ignores the plain legislative statement of jurisdiction in division (C). The unequivocal language in the first sentence of R.C. 4141.282(C) precludes us from reading into the statute any additional jurisdictional requirements other than the timely filing of the notice of appeal,” Justice French concluded.
Justice French noted that failure to comply with the naming requirement may justify a trial court’s dismissal of an appeal, but that issue was not presented in this case. The only issue before the Supreme Court was whether the trial court had jurisdiction to hear the appeal.
Commission Failed to Identify All Interested Parties
The Court also found the commission failed to meet the requirements of division (D) when it notified Pryor of its decision. Because of its failure to provide Pryor adequate notice that the Army is an interested party, Justice French ruled that his 30-day appeal process had never started.
Justice French explained the Court has consistently held that administrative agencies must strictly comply with procedural requirements about their decisions before the appeal deadlines begin to run. She wrote the commission’s decision issued to Pryor failed to indicate the Army was an interested party that Pryor must name. The notice indicated the ODJFS director is always an interested party and shall be named in the appeal.
The notice indicated the Army received a copy of the decision, but did not indicate which entities or individuals were interested parties.
“Common sense tells us that listing the parties who will receive a copy of the commission’s decision – without expressly identifying them as interested parties – does nothing to advise a potential appellant and falls well short of the mandate in R.C. 4141.282(D) that the decision provide the names and addresses of all interested parties,” she wrote.
The Court ruled that the commission must issue a decision that complies with the statute and list the interested parties. Pryor then may refile his notice of appeal in the appropriate court and in accordance with all the sections of R.C. 4141.282.
Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and William M. O’Neill joined Justice French’s opinion.
Chief Justice States Majority’s Interpretation of Law Uneven
In her dissent, Chief Justice O’Connor stated the majority employs two different standards to interpret how the law applies to Pryor and ODJFS. She noted division (D) states that person appealing “shall” state the names of all interested parties in the appeal.
“The statute means what it says. And ‘shall’ cannot be construed as having one meaning when applied to the commission and another when applied to Pryor,” she wrote.
She concluded that Pryor did not satisfy the law’s mandatory requirements and the trial court was correct in dismissing his appeal.
Additionally, she noted that the majority’s creation of a requirement that the commission not only name the interested parties in its notice of a written decision, but also label each interested party with that designation was not found in the language of division (D), and therefore, the majority reached beyond the bounds of its statutory interpretation role to reach its desired outcome.
“[I]f common sense is the guide, it would seem that Pryor should have been aware that his former employer—the Army—would be an interested party to his unemployment-compensation appeal,” she wrote.
Justice Terrence O’Donnell dissented without a written opinion and stated he would reverse the Ninth District’s decision and reinstate the dismissal by the trial court.
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