Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission --
Summary of Wisconsin Court Decision relating to Unemployment Insurance

Subject: College Barber Shop, L.L.C. v. LIRC and Pamela Rieselman, Case No. 10 CV 5488 (Wis. Cir. Ct., Dane Co., March 8, 2011)

Digest Codes: PC 751

The plaintiff is a limited liability company, and sought circuit court review of a decision of the commission. Its pleadings were signed by one of the members of the limited liability company, but who was not an attorney. The commission moved to dismiss the matter on the ground that the plaintiff's pleadings were of no effect, as they constituted the unauthorized practice of law.

Held: The circuit court agreed and, in a bench decision, DISMISSED the case. The court noted that the administrative proceedings might be a trap for the unwary, in that the commission allows non-lawyers to represent limited liability companies in proceedings before it. The court also noted that the individual who signed the pleadings followed the commission's appeal instructions exactly, and those instructions did not indicate that a non-lawyer could not sign pleadings on behalf of a limited liability company. The court noted that if this were a matter of the member's having signed an otherwise-proper answer, where the standard for failure is excusable neglect, it would find such neglect present.

The court indicated, however, that the matter of proper pleadings is a fundamentally different one, and that this case was controlled by Jadair, Inc. v. United States Fire Ins. Co., 209 Wis. 2d 187, 562 N.W.2d 401 (1997) (a notice of appeal signed by corporation president, a non-lawyer, was fundamentally defective). The court noted that, as here the commission did not indicate to the limited liability company that only an attorney licensed to practice in Wisconsin could sign the company's pleadings, in Jadair neither the corporation president's former attorney, other attorneys in the case, nor the circuit court judge informed the president that he could not represent the corporation in court proceedings. The court reasoned as well that the member's having acted in good faith was unavailing, as the president in Jadair had exercised equally good faith. The court also rejected distinction on the ground that the plaintiff was a limited liability company and not a corporation, noting that the courts in subsequent cases had not distinguished between the two kinds of entities. The court noted, finally, that the error could not be corrected, because to confer jurisdiction upon the court proper pleadings must have been filed and served within the time period prescribed by statute.

Please note that this is a summary prepared by staff of the commission, not a verbatim reproduction of the court decision.

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