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Contested unemployment benefits see two wins on appeal

Two women facing contested unemployment benefits won the favor of appellate courts in July 19 opinions as pro se litigants.

Yuzi Mussa is a cancer survivor and in March 2020, she was a dental hygienist working at Myers Dental Clinic under Dr. Zavon F. Kanion. After Kansas City ordered a shutdown of nonessential business, the clinic briefly performed only emergency services that did not require dental hygienists, according to the court opinion, which meant Mussa did not have work to do. She applied for unemployment benefits beginning March 23 and returned to work on May 11.

In June, Missouri’s Division of Unemployment Security notified her that she was overpaid $2,240 in unemployment benefits from March 28 to May 9, citing that she was paid for a period of disqualification. During that time, Mussa and the clinic owners had communicated three times via text, Zoom and in person about a timeline to return to work.

Clinic representatives did not show up for testimony or evidence before an appeals tribunal, while the tribunal and the commission agreed that she had been overpaid. Mussa appealed as a result.

Represented by Katie Brenneke, a deputy general counsel of the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, the commission asked the Court of Appeals Western District to dismiss Mussa’s pro se brief. The department, which also represented the Division of Employment Security in the appeal before the Court of Appeals Eastern District via attorney Andrea M. Follett, did not respond to a request for comment on either case by press time.

Judge Gary D. Witt wrote that the facts in Mussa’s case do not point to Mussa overpaying due to misconduct or voluntarily quitting without good cause on any basis. Since the clinic, which had the burden of proof, did not testify, it was up to the commission, which had nothing to go on other than an overpayment notice.

“This record provides no basis for even a bare legal conclusion that Mussa was disqualified from receiving benefits for any reason,” Witt wrote.

Judges Anthony Rex Gabbert and W. Douglas Thomson concurred.

In the case before the Eastern District, Shannon Noonan was a key carrier for Troyeco, a frozen yogurt shop. Troyeco contested her unemployment benefits claim in May 2020, and a Division of Employment Security deputy determined in August that Noonan should not have received benefits because she quit without good cause.

Noonan claimed that she did not know she was denied benefits until she received an October email about her account that led her to find out that she had been denied benefits. Her October 2 appeal was a month late. The appeals tribunal decided in 2021 that her appeal was too late and she failed to show good cause for an extension. Noonan filed another appeal on time, and the commission agreed with the tribunal’s decision.

In the same paragraph that the Eastern District declined to review supplemental evidence that never came to light before the commission, Judge Sherri B. Sullivan reversed and remanded the case for the appeals tribunal to review those details instead.

“Such a supplementation of the record on appeal would be in contravention of Claimant’s right to submit a brief upon a complete record,” Sullivan wrote.

Noonan will return to the appeals tribunal, which will review the additional evidence.

The cases are Mussa v. Division of Employment Security, WD84578, and Noonan v. Troyeco and Division of Employment Security, ED110111.