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Mott v. Secretary of Health

decided: February 10, 1969.

AMY C. MOTT, APPELLANT,
v.
SECRETARY OF HEALTH, EDUCATION AND WELFARE



Kalodner, Forman and Stahl, Circuit Judges.

Author: Forman

Opinion OF THE COURT

FORMAN, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey*fn1 granting the motion of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare for summary judgment and affirming the Secretary's decision that Amy C. Mott, the appellant, is not entitled to wife's benefits under Section 202(b) (1) of the Social Security Act.*fn2 That determination rested on the ultimate conclusion that at the time of her application for benefits, appellant was not the wife of the wage earner, Maurice B. Mott, the latter having procured a decree of divorce from appellant in Nevada on April 10, 1950. It is the validity of that decree which is presently in dispute.

Appellant and Maurice B. Mott were married on March 24, 1923 in New York, and resided together in New Jersey until September 1944, when Mr. Mott left appellant and their two children. On May 7, 1945 the Essex County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court ordered him to pay $22 per week for the support of appellant and their daughter, an order which was subsequently modified twice.*fn3 From the evidence adduced before the Hearing Examiner it appears that Mr. Mott never complied with any of these orders. During the month of November 1949, he left New Jersey to establish a permanent residence in California, apparently traveling by way of Nevada and stopping there for at least a short period of time.

On February 27, 1950, Mr. Mott initiated divorce proceedings in Clark County, Nevada. Appellant was personally served with process in New Jersey, but chose not to appear. She did, however, notify the Nevada court by letter that she believed Mr. Mott was not then a bona fide resident of Nevada and that "any divorce he may secure in Nevada will be a reflection on the integrity of the State of Nevada." The court advised her that it could not consider any of her contentions unless she appeared in the action through an attorney. Mr. Mott was granted a divorce on April 10, 1950, after appellant refused to sign an appearance and waiver form sent to her by Mr. Mott's attorney.

In 1952 appellant went to California in order to attempt to persuade Mr. Mott, who in the interim had remarried, to fulfill his obligations under the New Jersey support orders. Apparently failing in this endeavor, appellant and Mr. Mott, on February 6, 1953, entered into a post-marital property settlement agreement, which provided in pertinent part:

1) Mr. Mott obtained a Nevada divorce from appellant on April 10, 1950;

2) the parties mutually desired a final settlement and adjustment of their property rights;

3) each party released the other from all obligations and liabilities, including debts, owing to the other;

4) the agreement might be introduced by either party "in full satisfaction of the order of any Court involving the marital rights and obligations of the parties * * *";

5) Mr. Mott agreed to pay appellant the sum of $1224 in fourteen installments;*fn4

6) Mr. Mott agreed to assign and transfer to appellant his interest and title to a life insurance ...


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