Case Law Update

August 4, 2014

B. Cooney (deceased) v. WCAB (Patterson UTI, Inc.), __ A.3d __ (Pa. Cmwlth. No. 1681 C.D. 2013, filed June 12, 2014).

 

The claimant filed a fatal claim petition seeking death benefits as a widow. The claimant celebrated a common-law marriage in 2003 in Wyoming, a state that does not recognize common-law marriage. She did not co-habit with the decadent in Pennsylvania until June 2009, more than four years after Pennsylvania had legislatively abolished common-law marriage. The fatal claim was denied by the WCJ on the basis that the claimant had failed to establish a valid common-law marriage. The Board affirmed.

 

In affirming the denial of the fatal claim, the Commonwealth Court engaged in an analysis of common-law-marriage and found that the claimant and decedent did not have an “otherwise lawful” common-law marriage prior to January 1, 2005. Here, the claimant had conceded that she had married and lived with the decedent, as husband and wife from 2003 to June 2009, in Wyoming, a state which does not recognize common law marriages. Furthermore, claimant and decadent did not live together as husband and wife in Pennsylvania until June 2009, more than four years after Pennsylvania had legislatively abolished common-law marriage. As such, they never performed the acts which would satisfy proof of a common-law marriage while in a state that recognized such a union, prior to January 1, 2005.

 

Accordingly, the decision of the WCJ and Board were affirmed and the fatal claim petition was denied because the claimant failed to prove the existence of an otherwise lawful common-law marriage contracted on or before January 1, 2005, for purposes of establishing a valid common-law marriage under Section 1103 of the Marriage Law.

 

The Court noted that the denial of the claimant’s petition in no way jeopardized decadent’s minor children’s right to dependency benefits.

 

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