Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission --
Summary of Wisconsin Court Decision relating to Unemployment Insurance
Subject: Monarch Meat Packing Co. vs. Industrial Commission of Wisconsin and Lester W. Krueger, (Wis. Cir. Ct., Dane Co., March 21, 1958)
Digest Codes: PC 712.2
An initial determination found that the employee's discharge was not for misconduct, and it allowed benefits. The employer appealed. A notice of hearing was issued on June 6 scheduling the matter for hearing on June 17. The employer received the notice of hearing, but when the employer's president made a reminder notation of the date of the hearing on a desk calendar, he made it under the date of June 18. As a result of this inadvertent notation, the employer failed to appear at the hearing. The employer's president discovered the mistake on the morning of June 18 and immediately telephoned and made a full explanation to the Appeal Tribunal examiner. On June 28, the Appeal Tribunal issued a decision dismissing the employer's appeal, concluding that good cause was not shown for the employer's failure to appear at the hearing. The employer appealed, and the commission affirmed the Appeal Tribunal.
The employer then commenced an action for judicial review. It conceded that it had made a mistake, and argued that it had good cause. The commission argued that "If the employer's contention is sustained in this action, many cases involving disputed unemployment compensation issues will be delayed because of the necessity of rescheduling for hearing cases wherein the appellant alleges he overlooked or forgot the state of hearing; and all that will be required will be the mere assertion that this was the case."
Held: Reversed. "The anxiety expressed in [the commission's argument] is not to be given too serious consideration. The examiners and members of the Commission are serving the people. Fair and orderly proceeding may cause some inconvenience. All controversies are apt to; but the adjustment of differences between contesting parties each claiming substantial rights is not to be controlled entirely by an interest in speedily disposing of matters regardless of the rights of the individuals and without due inquiry into the merits honestly presented by respective claims.
"A satisfactory excuse is such as a court can pronounce legally sufficient and such as is reasonable under the circumstances of the case. That interpretation has existed many years. In a discussion of sufficient excuses, in 4 Wait's Practice, p. 472 we find a reasonable statement of the proposition: 'So where it is shown that the defendant himself mistook the return day of the summons and for that reason failed to appear the Court may relieve him . . ., especially where it appears that the defendant acted upon his mistaken impression and appeared at the time which he supposed was the correct one.' [citations omitted]
"It is evident that the plaintiff really intended to appear and defend its claim, and that it has a good defense to the defendant's cause, and that its failure to appear was in consequence of an excusable mistake, a mistaken notation of the 18th of June instead of the correct date June 17, the excuse for the failure to appear at the appointed time.
"The law applicable according to the true rule of construction is to carry into effect and furnish relief in cases in which manifest injustice has been done to a party who failed to appear and consequently is deprived of an opportunity for proving his defense. Plaintiff promptly notified the Commission of its situation.
"The allegations setting forth the facts on which its defense is based and the accidental cause of its failure to appear must be said to place its excuse well within the bounds of reasonableness. The merits of the defense are to be given consideration. There is no evidence of effort to delay the hearing. This is a construction which secures the rights of both parties and it carries into effect the intention of the workmen's compensation law. The statute is remediable and will be liberally construed for the purpose of advancing the remedy sought to be served."
Please note that this is a summary prepared by staff of the commission, not a verbatim reproduction of the entire court decision.
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