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UA Law grad argues case before Ohio Supreme Court

Legal News Reporter

Published: February 17, 2016

Many lawyers aspire to argue before the Ohio Supreme Court, but few get the opportunity and even fewer who only passed the bar exam three months prior.

That’s exactly what happened to Tucker Ellis associate Marcus Pryor II, who received his juris doctor from The University of Akron School of Law in May 2015.

Mastering the facts came easily to Pryor since he is both the appellant and the attorney of record. Perhaps even more importantly, the court’s decision will settle a question that the state’s appellate courts have yet to agree upon: Does the law require courts to dismiss cases, without the possibility of bringing the case again, when all of the parties are not named in the notice of appeal?

When Pryor appeared before the Ohio Supreme Court on Jan. 27, he argued that the answer to the question should be a resounding, “no” contending “people deserve to have the merits of their case heard in court.

“It was a great learning experience,” said Pryor. “I partnered with seven legal aid societies across Ohio and before I knew it I was fighting not only for my own case, but for all of Ohio’s employees and employers that may find themselves in my position one day.”

The case, Marcus H. Pryor II v. Director, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, grew out of a dispute over unemployment benefits that were given to Pryor upon his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army in 2012.

A native of Cincinnati, Pryor joined the army after obtaining his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Mount St. Joseph University in 2008. He also holds a master’s degree in business administration, which he received from The University of Akron in August 2015.

Pryor served as a combat medic in the 101st Airborne Assault Division, 3rd Brigade Rakkasans, spending two years stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. When he completed his service and moved to Akron in 2012, Pryor said “at the Army’s instruction,” he applied for and received unemployment benefits totaling $10,800.

But eight months after he was granted benefits, Pryor said the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services issued a new decision denying him benefits and ordering him to immediately repay the $10,800.

On July 24, 2013, Pryor said the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission affirmed the order without having a hearing on the matter. On August 23, he filed a notice of appeal with the Summit County Court of Common Pleas naming the director, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services as the adverse party. He sent the notice of appeal to both the director and the U.S. Army.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which represented the director, asked the court to dismiss the case because Pryor did not name the U.S. Army as an adverse party in the notice of appeal itself.

On Dec. 31, 2013, the trial court granted the director’s motion to dismiss, stating that Pryor’s failure to name the U.S. Army as an appellee in the notice of appeal deprived it of subject matter jurisdiction.

Pryor took his case to the 9th District Court of Appeals, which unanimously sided with his interpretation of the law.

In the March 31, 2015 decision, Presiding Judge Donna Carr, Administrative Judge Carla Moore and Judge Jennifer Hensal stated, “Any such defects in Mr. Pryor’s notice of appeal, specifically, his failure to name his prior employer as an appellee, did not divest the trial court of jurisdiction to consider his appeal…” The judges reversed and remanded Pryor’s case, sending it back to the trial court.

Pryor said the AG’s Office asked the court to certify to the Ohio Supreme Court that its decision was in direct conflict with other appellate courts that had already interpreted this exact law and agreed with the AG.

“This was the first time the 9th District had an opportunity to interpret this version of this particular law,” said Pryor. “The court went against its sister appellate courts, which rarely happens. When it does, the Supreme Court of Ohio has the final say.”

The Ohio Solicitor General Office’s represented the director at the Supreme Court level. A spokesperson from the AG’s office directed the Akron Legal News to previously submitted arguments.

The reply brief to the Ohio Supreme Court filed on Dec. 14, 2015 stated:

“As the Director’s opening brief explained, R.C. 4141.282’s plain text says that a common pleas court acquires jurisdiction over an unemployment-compensation appeal only when an appellant files a valid notice of appeal that ‘shall name all interested parties as appellees.’ R.C. 4141.282(D). Pryor’s response does not overcome this plain text, and he concedes that he ‘did not name’ his former employer, the U.S. Army, ‘as an appellee in the notice of appeal.’ Pryor Br. at 4. Pryor instead offers several reasons why this plain statutory requirement should be ignored. None are persuasive, so this Court should apply the jurisdictional provisions as written and hold that Pryor’s incomplete notice of appeal had a jurisdictional defect.”

Although Pryor admits he failed to sue the U.S. Army, he said that should not have resulted in the case being dismissed.

Pryor said he argued several key points when he went before the Ohio Supreme Court, including that “for 65 years the law has not been read as requiring cases be dismissed in these situations and there is no reason to change it now.” Pryor said the plain language of the statute which states, “the timely filing of the notice of appeal is the only act necessary to perfect the appeal and vest jurisdiction in the court,” is all that was needed in order for the trial court to be able to hear the merits of his case, adding, “no one disputes that I timely filed a notice of appeal.”

Donna Palmer, assistant dean for academic success at The University of Akron School of Law said what makes Pryor unusual is that he actually fought the case during his first year in law school.

She said he enlisted her assistance, but only as a “sounding board.

“Marcus is amazing,” she said. “He has driven this case pretty much by himself. He responded to the claim, did his own research, wrote his own brief (with some small edits made by Palmer) and prepared his own arguments.

“I reviewed what he was doing and asked him what the counter arguments might be,” said Palmer. “I also pushed him to reason through his own arguments and how best to defend them. Any good lawyer knows that you have to be prepared for what the other side will say before you appear in court.”

Palmer said Pryor is someone that sees obstacles as an opportunity to “fix” what is wrong. “He’s very proactive and confident, but not cocky,” she said. “When the case came up, I don’t think it ever occurred to him to have someone else handle it.  He simply embraced the next step.”

Benjamin Sassé, appellate group practice leader at Tucker Ellis, said Pryor also bounced ideas off of him.

“I did a moot court session with Marcus so that he could practice his arguments prior to appearing before the Supreme Court of Ohio,” said Sassé. “I think he showed a remarkable ability to rise to the occasion. He’s very bright and was very diligent in working through the problems in the case and figuring out the best approach to take.

“From the perspective of growing as an attorney, this is an invaluable opportunity to be able to get this type of experience so early in one’s career,” Sassé said.

The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to make a decision on Pryor’s case later this year.