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Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development v. Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission

Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District II

February 17, 2016

Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission, William J. Hogan and First Student Management LLC, Defendants-Respondents. Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission, Paul F. Baier and Weegan Landscape Inc., Defendants-Respondents. Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, plaintiff-appellant,
v.
Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission, Bret V. Maertz and Frontier Airlines Inc., Defendants-Respondents. Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission, Gary D. Kluczynski, Dale D. Doberstein and Julie Doberstein, Defendants-Respondents. Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission, Patrick C. Vaneyck, Tidy View Dairy LLC and Locate Staffing Inc., Defendants-Respondents. Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission, Mary B. Hembel and National Telecommuting Institute of Wisconsin Inc., Defendants-Respondents.

APPEAL from an order of the circuit court for Kenosha County: Cir. Ct. Nos. 2014CV926, 2014CV927, 2014CV928, 2014CV929, 2014CV930, 2014CV1265, DAVID M. BASTIANELLI, Judge.

Before Reilly, P.J., Gundrum and Hagedorn, JJ.

HAGEDORN, J.

¶1 Wisconsin has a multi-layered appeals process for unemployment insurance awards. Benefit amounts and eligibility are initially determined by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD). See WIS . STAT . §§ 108.03 & 108.09(2) (2013-14).[1] Disputes over those awards then go to an administrative law judge who acts in a quasi-judicial role but is still employed by DWD. See § 108.09(3)-(4). Administrative law judge decisions are then appealed to an independent administrative agency-the Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC). See § 108.09(6). Following disposition by LIRC, any party can appeal by filing a case in circuit court. See WIS. STAT. § 102.23(1)(a).

¶2 This case involves an appeal by DWD to the circuit court contesting an award by LIRC of unemployment benefits for seven individuals. Despite only one of the individuals having a connection to Kenosha county, DWD brought all seven lawsuits there to seek unified judicial resolution of a particular and shared legal question.[2] But substantive review never came. The circuit court dismissed the six actions with no connection to Kenosha county, [3] concluding that DWD did not comply with Wis. STAT. § 102.23(l)(a) because it filed the cases in an improper venue. The court ruled that this defect compelled dismissal because it lacked the competency to proceed.

¶3 On appeal, DWD contends that any defect in venue did not impair the court's competency. DWD further argues that even if it did, the court still retained the power to transfer the cases or consolidate them into a single proceeding. We disagree and affirm the circuit court's actions in this case. We hold that the venue provision in WIS. STAT. § 102.23(l)(a) is central to the statutory scheme and did deprive the court of competency. The circuit court was further correct that the proper remedy was dismissal of the six improperly venued cases.

Background

¶4 WISCONSIN Stat. § 102.23 sets out the procedure to obtain review of LIRC decisions regarding the award or denial of unemployment benefits. The text of § 102.23(l)(a) states that LIRC decisions are "subject to review only as provided in this section." Thus, the supreme court has recognized that this provision "defines the exclusive statutory scheme by which [a] party may file a summons and complaint in the circuit court." Xcel Energy Servs., Inc. v. LIRC, 2013 WI 64, 129, 349 Wis.2d 234, 833 N.W.2d 665.

¶5 The rules of civil procedure provide generally applicable rules regarding venue.[4] However, WIS. STAT. § 102.23(l)(a) provides an exception to the generally applicable rules and prescribes as follows:

The proceedings shall be in the circuit court of the county where the plaintiff resides, except that if the plaintiff is a state agency, the proceedings shall be in the circuit court of the county where the defendant resides. The proceedings may be brought in any circuit court if all parties stipulate and that court agrees.

Sec. 102.23(1)(a). Thus, where the plaintiff is a state agency-as it is here-the action must be brought in the circuit court where the defendant resides unless all parties stipulate and the court agrees to another venue.

¶6 It is undisputed that the parties in this case did not stipulate to venue the case elsewhere.[5] Therefore, the statute requires that each of these cases be brought in the venue where the defendant resides.[6] However, only one of the seven actions was brought where a defendant resided. Unsurprisingly, procedural wrangling ensued.[7] Following briefing and arguments, the circuit court concluded that because DWD did not file the cases where a defendant resided, and there were no stipulations to proceed elsewhere, venue was improper. It further held that the venue provision was central to the statutory scheme, rendering the court incompetent to proceed. Rejecting DWD's efforts to consolidate the cases nonetheless, the court held that the proper remedy was dismissal of the cases. DWD appeals this decision and order.

Discussion

A. Failure to Comply With a Provision That is Central to the Statutory Scheme Deprives the ...


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