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Pearson v. Keystone Temporary Assignment Group, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

September 17, 2019

ROLANDA PEARSON Appellant,
v.
KEYSTONE TEMPORARY ASSIGNMENT GROUP, INC., and DIVISION OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY, Respondents.

          Appeal from the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission

          OPINION

          ANGELA T. QUIGLESS, J

         The claimant, Rolanda Pearson, appeals from the decision of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission finding her disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits. Ms. Pearson's employment with employer Keystone Temporary Assignment Group, Inc., ended in September of 2018, and she filed for unemployment. The deputy, then the Appeals Tribunal, and then ultimately the Commission all denied her claim. Adopting the decision of the Appeals Tribunal as its own, the Commission unanimously determined that Ms. Pearson was disqualified because she voluntarily quit work without good cause attributable to work or the employer. Ms. Pearson now appeals to this Court, seeking reversal of the Commission's decision. Because Ms. Pearson failed to substantially comply with the rules of appellate procedure, we dismiss the appeal.

         Discussion

         Ms. Pearson appears on her own behalf, without the assistance of an attorney. She has the right to do so. Kramer v. Park-Et Restaurant, Inc., 226 S.W.3d 867, 869 (Mo. App. E.D. 2007). "We cannot and will not penalize [Ms. Pearson] for not utilizing the assistance of an attorney; but likewise, we cannot and will not lend [her] any assistance in prosecuting her appeal because she is not represented by counsel." Bishop v. Metro Restoration Servs., Inc., 209 S.W.3d 43, 45 (Mo. App. S.D. 2006). "This is not a matter of our personal preference, but rather the demands placed upon us by our oaths of office, our commitment to uphold the rule of law, and the very nature of the adversarial process, which requires fair, impartial and disinterested decision makers." Id. "We would be true to none of these principles if we applied the law in one manner to litigants represented by counsel and then in a different manner to litigants that are not represented by counsel." Id. Accordingly, pro se appellants such as Ms. Pearson are bound by the same rules as a party represented by an attorney. Kramer, 226 S.W.3d at 869. They must comply with the Supreme Court Rules, including Rule 84.04, which sets out the requirements for appellate briefs. Thornton v. City of Kirkwood, 161 S.W.3d 916, 919 (Mo. App. E.D. 2005). We do not grant pro se appellants preferential treatment regarding compliance with those rules. Id. This is not from lack of sympathy, but rather is necessitated by the requirement of judicial impartiality, judicial economy, and fairness to all parties. Id.

         Rule 84.04 requires an appellant's brief to have the following: (1) a detailed table of contents with page references and a table of cases and other authorities; (2) a jurisdictional statement; (3) a fair and concise statement of the facts; (4) a point relied on that identifies the ruling challenged, sets forth concisely the legal reasons for the claim of error, explains why the reasons support a finding of error, and is followed by a list of legal authorities upon which the appellant relies; (5) an argument section that discusses the point relied on and contains, in part, the standard of review; and (6) a short conclusion. Rule 84.04(a)-(e); Kramer, 226 S.W.3d at 869. Additionally, all statements of fact and argument must have specific page references to the relevant portion of the record on appeal. Rules 84.04(c) and (e).

         Compliance with the briefing requirements under Rule 84.04 is mandatory. Kramer, 226 S.W.3d at 870. This is to ensure that appellate courts do not become advocates by speculating on facts and arguments that have not been asserted. Brown v. Ameristar Casino Kansas City, Inc., 211 S.W.3d 145, 147 (Mo. App. W.D. 2007). Compliance with the rule also provides the appellate court with a more complete understanding of the relevant issues and allows the opposing party to develop counter arguments. Lueker v. Missouri W. State Univ., 241 S.W.3d 865, 867 (Mo. App. W.D. 2008). Perfection is not required, but an appellant must substantially comply with the rules. Id. Failure to substantially comply with Rule 84.04 preserves nothing for review and is a proper ground for dismissing an appeal. Brown, 211 S.W.3d at 147-48; Rule 84.13 (mandating that allegations of error not properly briefed shall not be considered in any civil appeal). Ms. Pearson failed to comply with Rule 84.04 in almost every respect. Most critically, her fact statement, point relied on, and argument are all deficient.

         Statement of Facts

         Rule 84.04(c) requires a fair and concise statement of facts "relevant to the question presented for determination without argument." "The primary purpose of the statement of facts is to set forth an immediate, accurate, complete and unbiased understanding of the facts of the case." Rice v. State, Dept. of Social Servs., 971 S.W.2d 840, 842 (Mo. App. E.D. 1998). Ms. Pearson's fact statement fails this essential purpose. Ms. Pearson's recitation of the facts consists of eight numbered paragraphs that are mostly procedural-related. The numbered paragraphs presume an understanding of the background and context of the case and of the parties. Standing alone they do not provide an immediate, accurate, or complete understanding of the facts of the case. Ms. Pearson fails to provide even a basic understanding of the case. An appellant must include facts relevant to the issues to be determined by this Court. Kent v. Charlie Chicken, II, Inc., 972 S.W.2d 513, 515 (Mo. App. E.D. 1998). Ms. Pearson omitted many, if not all of the relevant facts needed for review of this case. Most notably, Ms. Pearson did not inform us of the most basic of facts - the Commission's ruling that she had voluntarily quit without good cause. "Failure to include, in the statement of facts, the facts upon which an appellant's claim of error is based fails to preserve the contention for appellate review." Id. Ms. Pearson's failure to comply with Rule 84.04(c) is a sufficient basis to dismiss this appeal. Thompson v. Thompson, 786 S.W.2d 891, 892 (Mo. App. S.D. 1990).

         Point Relied On

         Ms. Pearson also failed to comply with Rule 84.04(d), which sets out the requirements for an appellant's points relied on. Her point is deficient in form and in substance.[1] A point must be in substantially the following form:

"The [name of agency] erred in [identify the challenged ruling or action], because [state the legal reasons for the claim of reversible error, including the reference to the applicable statute authorizing review], in that [explain why, in the context of the case, the legal reasons support the claim of reversible error]."

Rule 84.04(d)(2)(c). Ms. Pearson did not conform to this "virtual roadmap" in drafting her point, which states:

The Labor and Industrial Relations Commission (LIRC) erroneously affirmed The Appeals Tribunal's decision for disqualification of claimant for waiting week credit and unemployment benefits until the claimant has earned wages for insured work equal to ten time the claimant's WBA for a total of $3, 200.00 in wages after 09/07/2018. The LIRC's decision was contrary to law and the facts found by the LIRC do not support the ...

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