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Pilate v. Mississippi Department of Employment Security

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

July 16, 2019

MILTON PILATE APPELLANT
v.
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY AND POWELL TRANSPORTATION COMPANY APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/22/2018

          HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT, HON. WINSTON L. KIDD JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: MILTON PILATE (PRO SE).

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: JAMES RANDALL BUSH ALBERT B. WHITE.

          BEFORE CARLTON, P.J., LAWRENCE AND C. WILSON, JJ.

          LAWRENCE, J.

         ¶1. In this unemployment-benefits case, Milton Pilate appeals the Hinds County Circuit Court's dismissal of his appeal from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security's Board of Review (the Board). Two years after Pilate's appeal, the circuit court dismissed the appeal with prejudice under Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure 2(a)(2) and 31(d). Pilate then appealed the circuit court's dismissal. Finding that the circuit clerk must issue Pilate appropriate notice before a dismissal, we reverse and remand without reaching the merits of the Board's decision.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. In October 2014, Pilate began working as an over-the-road truck driver for Powell Transportation Company (Powell) in Flowood, Mississippi. On February 24, 2016, Dr. Latoya Bullock of Central Mississippi Health Services diagnosed Pilate with vertigo and treated him with medication. Dr. Bullock recommended that Pilate not drive again until his symptoms were resolved. After starting the medication, Pilate's symptoms subsided, so he continued working.

         ¶3. On March 15, 2016, Pilate was driving a work truck from Tennessee to Louisiana. He was without medication when his symptoms reoccurred in Wiggins, Mississippi. Instead of continuing his route to Louisiana, Pilate drove to Powell's Flowood terminal. He arrived there around 3 a.m. Pilate returned his truck, cleaned it out, and turned in his keys and fuel card. He did not notify anyone at Powell of what happened nor did he show up for work the next day. Pilate's manager assumed he had quit. On March 17, 2016, Pilate called his manager and said that he was back on his medication, feeling better, and ready to work. The manager informed Pilate that he would need to check with the owner. According to Pilate, no one ever contacted him.

         ¶4. On March 23, 2016, Pilate filed his initial claim for unemployment benefits with the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES). An MDES claims examiner investigated the circumstances surrounding Pilate's departure and determined that Pilate was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits under Mississippi Code Annotated section 71-5-513(A)(1)(a) (Rev. 2011) because he left his job without good cause.[1] On April 14, 2016, Pilate appealed to the administrative judge (AJ). After conducting a telephonic hearing with Pilate and his manager on June 8, 2016, the AJ likewise denied Pilate's claim for unemployment benefits. On June 16, 2016, Pilate appealed the AJ's decision to the Board. On June 27, 2016, the Board adopted the AJ's findings of fact and opinion and affirmed his decision.

         ¶5. On July 5, 2016, Pilate appealed the Board's decision to the Hinds County Circuit Court. MDES filed the record and its answer one month later. Pilate did nothing. Pilate's attorney filed an entry of appearance on May 25, 2017. On June 5, 2017, Pilate's attorney filed a motion to withdraw as counsel of record. The court entered an order granting the motion and stated that Pilate had sixty days to obtain substitute counsel or notify the court that he intended to proceed pro se.[2] On July 5, 2017, Pilate filed an "answer" or response to the order, stating he "ha[d] no choice but to proceed . . . pro se." From that point, Pilate took no further action.

         ¶6. On December 14, 2017, MDES filed a motion to dismiss with prejudice in accordance with Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure 2(a)(2) and 31(d). On June 22, 2018, the circuit court granted the motion, stating that Pilate had failed to file his appellant's brief after receiving notification of the deficiency. Aggrieved, Pilate appeals.

         STANDARD ...


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