Pro-Se Litigant Cut No Slack By Idaho Supreme Court
Judge rejects 70-year-old babysitter's appeal of denial of pandemic unemployment benefits because she failed to comply with Idaho Appellate Rules of Procedure.
Most people would agree it doesn’t always go right the first time a shopper goes to a grocery store and checks out his or her groceries.
Many shoppers can’t figure out how to pay for a tomato or they enter the same item twice. We’ve all waited in lines for store employees to intervene.
Now imagine what it would be like if you were Deborah Dorr, 70, a babysitter, who was forced to represent herself in a court of law because legal aid wouldn’t or couldn’t help her and she couldn’t afford to hire an attorney.
The Idaho Supreme Court is far less forgiving than Walmart. Self-represented or pro se litigants must follow the same rules as attorneys. There is no room for error.
The Court recently rejected an appeal filed by Dorr involving pandemic unemployment benefits. The Court said it would not consider the merits of Dorr’s case due to “the appellant’s failure to comply with Rule 35(a)(6)” of the Idaho Appellate Rules of Procedure.
FIRST, THE BUREAUCRATIC NIGHTMARE
Dorr says she was wrongly deemed ineligible for pandemic unemployment assistance in March 2020. The Idaho Dept. of Labor (IDOL) approved her second application on August 2, 2020 because “her babysitting job stopped due to the pandemic” and “her age was a reason for self-quarantine.” However, IDOL refused to backdate her benefits to March.
Dorr filed an appeal and IDOL set a date for a telephone hearing on February 22, 2021. Dorr called 43 minutes late because she didn’t notice the Boise IDOL office was on Mountain Time. Dorr lives in Coeur d’ Alene, which is in the Pacific time zone. Dorr said “poor eyesight prevented her from seeing non-bolded font in the Notice (i.e. the hearing time as stated in Pacific Time.”
The IDOL hearing examiner waited 13 minutes and then dismissed her appeal for failure to appear. He then refused to reschedule the hearing, concluding Dorr’s “failure to adjust to Mountain Tine was not ‘good cause’ to reopen the hearing.”
The Idaho Industrial Commission affirmed the Appeal Examiner’s denial of Dorr’s request to reopen the case.
Idaho Supreme Court
So the case went to the Idaho Supreme Court.
First the Court rejected Dorr’s opening brief because it didn’t have a required table of contents, table of authorities, citations to the record, and an argument section with citations to legal authority. The Court gave Dorr a chance to refile.
Dorr said she went to a law library to do research but neither she nor the law librarian could find any cases on point. “There were no cases to cite to!” she said.
The Court rejected the second version of Dorr’s opening brief, which had a table of contents, because it “otherwise appeared to be the same as the first version.”
The Court ultimately rejected the third iteration of Dorr’s brief because the “argument section” lacked a list of relevant cases by docket number as required by Idaho Appellate Rule 35(a)(6).
Judge Robyn Brody, the presiding judge, writes:
“The argument section of Dorr’s briefing consists of five sentences which basically state that she did some research and was unable to find an analogous case to support her position. She does not acknowledge the abuse of discretion standard that applies to the decision to reopen the hearing nor does she explain how the Industrial Commission (or the Appeals examiner) abused its discretion in denying her request to reopen.”
Judge Brody discounted Dorr’s presentation of “unsworn facts” explaining why she missed the hearing and an “unsworn Doctor’s Referral Form “ stating Dorr needed glasses.
“In sum, Dorr’s brief does not satisfy the standard for the arguments that must be made on appeal,” she concluded.
This was not an intellectual exercise for Dorr.
Reached at her home on Wednesday, Dorr expressed extreme frustration.
“Nobody would help me,” she said. “That really screwed me up. I did everything I could… The Idaho Supreme Court decision took food out of my mouth.”
Dorr said she wonders how many people lost unemployment benefits in Idaho because the state initially outsourced the pandemic assistance process to a contractor and it was unworkable. Dorr said she is a “pitbull” but expressed doubt that many people would appeal an initial finding of unemployment ineligibility or take a case to court.
“I made mistakes. My glasses were broken and I didn’t see the time difference… And if I had an attorney, things might have turned out differently,” she said.
A recent study by the Legal Service Corp. found that 92% of low-income Americans don’t have access to civil lawyers.
The case is Dorr v. IDOL, No. 48810 (Nov. 25, 2022).