Subject Matter Jurisdiction is Shrinking

We talked last Monday about the need to raise an issue in the trial court to have it heard on appeal. There is an exception for subject matter jurisdiction. The post noted, however, that this exception is very narrow. A decision rendered today confirms that it is growing smaller.

In Allison v. W.L. Gore & Assoc., 394 S.C. 185, 714 S.E.2d 547 (2011), a workers’ compensation claimant appealed a single commissioner’s denial of benefits two days late. She argued that the Commission could extend the time for an appeal to it. The Commission agreed that it could hear the appeal but upheld the denial of benefits.The claimant then appealed to the circuit court. The circuit court master agreed that the Commission had subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal but reversed on the merits.

On further appeal, the Supreme Court overruled a line of decisions holding that an executive agency’s authority to hear an appeal involves its subject matter jurisdiction. The issue is instead appellate jurisdiction. The Court then concluded that the Commission nevertheless lacked the authority to extend the time permitted to take an appeal to it. Significantly, the Court cited its rule that it lacks the authority to extend the time to take an appeal to it and the Court of Appeals.

The Court’s distinction between subject matter jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction makes sense – if defects in appellate jurisdiction can be waived. Defects in subject matter jurisdiction cannot. But Allison seems to suggest that the Commission lacked the authority to extend the time for an appeal – period – whether the issue was timely raised or not. If so, the distinction makes little sense. But this may be over reading the case. We will see.

Has anyone out there had a case that turned on the distinction between subject matter jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction? Please leave a reply or reach me at www.attorneyroberthill.com.

 

Leave a Reply