Tuesday, June 13, 2006

UC - non-attorney representation of parties

Piunti et al. v. UCBR - Commonwealth Court - June 13, 2006


Four attorneys who alleged that they routinely practice UC law filed an original action in Commonwealth Court asking for a declaratory judgment against the UC Board of Review. Petitioners attacked the constitutionality of sec. 214 of the UC Law, 43 PS sec. 862, Act 5 of 2005, entitled "representation in proceedings -- Any party in any proceeding under this act before the department, a referee or the board may be represented by an attorney or other representive."

Act 5 was enacted in response to the decision ion Harkness v. UCBR, 867 A.2d 728 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005, appeal granted, 885 A.2d 980, where the Commonwealth Court found that representing corporations in UC cases involved the practice of law was not permitted under Article V, sec. 10 of the state constitution, which gives the state supreme court the sole power to regulate the practice of law.

The UCBR challenged the Petitioners' standing and said they had not stated a claim for relief. As to the latter, the Board claimed the Act 5 "does not restrict or regulate the practice of law" but "simply permits laypersons to 'advocate' in unemployment proceedings, therefore it is not at odds with the Supreme Court's authority to regulate attorneys and the practice of law."

In a 5-2 decision, the Court found that Petitioners were "aggrieved" and had a substantial, direct and immediate interest in the outcome of the case and thus had standing to bring the case. On the merits, the Court held that the Petitioners had stated a claim for relief. As it had previously said in Harkness v. UCBR, 867 A.2d 728 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005, appeal granted, 885 A.2d 980 (filed Sept. 28, 2005), the court found that representing corporations in UC hearings was the practice of law, over which the Supreme Court has "exclusive jurisdiction" under Article V, sec. 10. "The exclusive jurisdiction encompasses a responsibility that laypersons not practice law without a license and that corporations not appear in our courts in propria persona or otherwise unrepresented by counsel. Whether special circumstances exist which justify such representation of corporations in unemployment proceedings is for the Supreme Court to decide, not the General Assembly."