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SD Supreme Court rules lower court must hear pandemic benefits case

South Dakota Supreme Court
South Dakota Supreme Court

The South Dakota Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to reconsider a woman’s appeal over a pandemic benefit dispute.

The case began when the Department of Labor's Reemployment Assistance Division determined Brittain Kovac was ineligible to have received more than $20,000 dollars in unemployment assistance and ordered her to repay it.

Kovac appealed to the 6th district circuit court in Hughes County a week ahead of the March 22, 2022 deadline set by the state. The clerk of courts acknowledged receiving the appeal but refused to file it due to errors with the application, including lack of a $70 filing fee.

Kovac again filed, this time including a check. However, the second application was received two weeks after the deadline. The clerk's office again refused to file the appeal, though in its response the clerk noted it had determined "a $70 dollar filing fee is not required to file an administrative appeal relating to reemployment assistance."

The Reemployment Assistance Division moved to dismiss Kovac's appeal, arguing it was untimely. The circuit court ruled in the department's favor, pointing to the fact that the appeal was never formerly filed by the clerk of courts.

On Thursday, the state Supreme Court ruled the lower court erred in its decision to dismiss Kovac's case. In their opinion, justices argued the circuit court inaccurately interpreted astate law governing how an appeal can be made, and that the clerk acknowledging receipt was sufficient to fulfill the March 22 deadline.

The opinion also repudiated other technical arguments the lower court used in its decision.

The ruling requires the circuit court to evaluate Kovac's appeal.