Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of Lillian J. David, Administratrix of the Estate of Willie K. Davis, deceased, v. Bellevue Locust Garage, No. A-62475.
Daniel J. McAleer, with him Charles C. Hansford and Thomas F. McDevitt, for appellant.
Charles S. Katz, with him R. D. Harburg and Swartz, Campbell & Detweiler, for appellees.
Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Kramer.
[ 12 Pa. Commw. Page 603]
This is an appeal by Lillian J. David (Claimant) from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) denying her fatal claim petition.
The sole question presented on appeal is whether Claimant was the common law wife of Willie K. David, the decedent. Willie K. David died as a result of injuries sustained during the course of his employment with Bellevue Locust Garage (Bellevue). There is no question of Bellevue's liability to Claimant if a valid common law marriage existed.
[ 12 Pa. Commw. Page 604]
Claimant filed her fatal claim petition on February 20, 1969. A hearing was held before a referee concerning the validity of the alleged common law marriage, and on January 7, 1970, the referee issued an award in Claimant's favor. Bellevue appealed to the Board which, on April 2, 1973, reversed the referee and denied the award. In this appeal, Claimant asks that we reverse the Board and reinstate the award of the referee.
In workmen's compensation cases where the party bearing the burden of proof prevailed before the referee and the Board took no additional evidence, our scope of review is limited to determining whether the referee's findings are supported by substantial competent evidence. Of course, we also are to determine whether there has been a violation of constitutional rights or an error of law. See Hoy v. Fran Lingerie, 9 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 542, 308 A.2d 640 (1973). The Board may consider questions of law, but, unless it takes additional evidence, the Board may not disregard the referee's findings when they are supported by sufficient competent evidence. See Maston v. Union Mining Company, 9 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 586, 309 A.2d 67 (1973).
The validity of a common law marriage is a mixed question of fact and law. See Baker v. Mitchell, 143 Pa. Superior Ct. 50, 17 A.2d 738 (1941). The Superior Court in Rager v. Johnstown Traction Company, 184 Pa. Superior Ct. 474, 134 A.2d 918 (1957), aptly summarized the appropriate law:
"Marriage in Pennsylvania is a civil contract and does not require any particular form of solemnization before officers of church or state. . . .
"Cohabitation and reputation that the parties are married do not constitute a legal marriage -- not even a common law marriage -- but they are evidence from which a marriage may be found, if the circumstances ...