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Kentucky Unemployment Insurance Commission v. Wilson

Supreme Court of Kentucky

August 24, 2017

KENTUCKY UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE COMMISSION APPELLANT
v.
NORMAN WILSON AND UNIVERSAL LINEN, LLC APPELLEES

         ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2014-CA-001023 JEFFERSON CIRCUIT COURT NO. 14-CI-000854

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Maria T. Russell Patrick Byron Shirley Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Office of Legal and Legislative Services.

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE NORMAN WILSON: Fernando Valdizan Alex White.

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE UNIVERSAL LINEN, LLC: Gavin Weinrich Smith Greenberg & Perkins, PLLC.

          OPINION

          VENTERS JUSTICE.

         The Kentucky Unemployment Insurance Commission (KUIC) appeals from a decision of the Court of Appeals which concluded that Appellee Norman Wilson had substantially complied with the verification requirement of KRS 341.450(1) when he filed a complaint in the Jefferson Circuit Court seeking judicial review of an adverse decision of KUIC. The Jefferson Circuit Court dismissed Wilson's complaint based upon the decision of this Court in Taylor v. Kentucky Unemployment Insurance Commission, 382 S.W.3d 826 (Ky. 2012). The Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court, citing the substantial compliance doctrine implicit in Shamrock Coal Co. v. Taylor, 697 S.W.2d 952 (Ky. App. 1985). We granted discretionary review to examine the continuing viability of Shamrock in light of our decision in Taylor.[1]

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         After losing his job, Wilson applied for unemployment compensation. When he received an unfavorable ruling from the KUIC, he exercised his statutory right of judicial review by filing a complaint in Jefferson Circuit Court pursuant to KRS 341.450(1). As relevant to our review, KRS 341.450(1) provides that a party aggrieved by a final decision of the KUIC may obtain judicial review of that decision "by filing a complaint against the commission in the [circuit court of the appropriate county]. . . . The complaint. . . shall be verified by the plaintiff or his attorney." (Emphasis added.)

         Wilson's attorney signed the complaint and Wilson signed an attached "verification" page which stated: "I, Norman Wilson, have read in its entirety the foregoing plea[ding], and to the best of my knowledge the information contained therein is truthful and accurate." Neither Wilson's signature, nor the signature of his attorney, was notarized or otherwise subscribed under oath before an officer authorized to administer oaths.

         Citing Taylor, the circuit court concluded that Wilson's complaint lacked the verification expressly required by KRS 341.450(1). Accordingly, the circuit court dismissed the action, reasoning that the unverified complaint failed to vest that court with the authority to adjudicate the case. On appeal, however, the Court of Appeals found Shamrock to be a more fitting precedent. Shamrock holds that a complaint which exhibits "a clear attempt at verification" is sufficiently compliant with KRS 341.450(1) to authorize judicial review. 697 S.W.2d at 953. Thus, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision and reinstated Wilson's claim.

         II. ANALYSIS

         In Taylor, we reaffirmed the "firmly rooted concept of law in this state that the courts have no jurisdiction over an appeal from an administrative agency action unless every statutory precondition is satisfied." 382 S.W.3d at 831.[2] As a general rule, "[t]here is no appeal to the courts from an action of an administrative agency as a matter of right. When grace to appeal is granted by statute, a strict compliance with its terms is required." Board of Adjustments of City of Richmond v. Mood, 581 S.W.2d 1, 2 (Ky. 1978) (citations omitted). Statutory preconditions for vesting courts with the authority to engage in judicial review cannot be satisfied by substantial compliance. See City of Devondale v. Stuffings, 795 S.W.2d 954, 957 (Ky. 1990) ("It is only [when . defects are nonjurisdictional in nature] that a discussion of substantial compliance ... is appropriate."). Consequently, at least with respect to the jurisdictional requirements for invoking judicial review of an administrative agency ruling, we have no substantial compliance exception to a statute which grants the right to appeal. See Kentucky Unemployment Insurance Commission v. Carter, 689 S.W.2d 360, 361-362 (Ky. 1985).

         We also noted in Taylor a significant line of cases holding that the verification requirement of KRS 341:450(1) requires strict compliance, and that the attorney's signature alone on the petition could not be regarded as satisfying the statutory requirement for verification.

We believe [Monyhan,[3]Pickhart,[4]Fisher,[5]and Carter,[6] relied upon by Fisher] accurately state the rule in the case before us, and thus we hold that a properly verified complaint is required to invoke circuit court jurisdiction under KRS 341.450(1), and, further, that a CR 11 signature by the claimant's attorney is ...

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