Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals Holds That a Nonlawyer Personal Representative May Not Initiate an Appeal

26 March 2018 Wisconsin Appellate Law Blog
Authors: Eric G. Pearson

It is not exactly a novel proposition of law in Wisconsin that a nonlawyer cannot represent a separate legal entity (as opposed to appearing pro se) in a Wisconsin court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court considered this issue over 50 years ago in State ex rel. Baker v. County Court of Rock County, 29 Wis. 2d 1, 138 N.W.2d 162 (1965), when the county court had refused to act on filings from a nonlawyer executor of an estate. The Supreme Court addressed a similar question more recently in Jadair Inc. v. U.S. Fire Ins. Co., 562 N.W.2d 401, 209 Wis.2d 187 (1997) , where a nonlawyer signed a notice of appeal on behalf of a corporation. The filings in both cases were ineffective; the court’s rationale was that these nonlawyers were engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

Given that history, our readers should not be surprised by the result in Ditech Financial LLC v. Estate of Stacey, No. 2016AP2371 (Wis. Ct. App. Feb. 15, 2018), a recent per curiam decision issued by District IV of Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals. The appellant, Michael Stacey, who was not a lawyer, was the personal representative of the Estate of James G. Stacey. He sought to appeal the sheriff’s sale of the decedent’s former residence.

The court decided that the personal representative’s filing of the notice of appeal was ineffective, which left the court without jurisdiction to hear the appeal. “A person not admitted to practice law,” the court held, “has no authority to sign a pleading on behalf of another to invoke this court’s jurisdiction.” ¶ 10. The personal representative’s appeal was dismissed.

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