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PPL v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board

September 10, 2010

PPL, PETITIONER
v.
WORKERS' COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (REBO), RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Senior Judge Flaherty

Submitted: April 1, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE JIM FLAHERTY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

PPL (Employer) petitions for review from an order of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Board) that affirmed the decision of a Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) denying its Termination Petition. We affirm.

Sandra Rebo (Claimant) receives workers' compensation benefits as a dependent spouse following the death of her husband, George Rebo (Decedent). Employer filed a Termination Petition on June 12, 2008 seeking to cease compensation payments alleging that Claimant was involved in a meretricious relationship. Employer subsequently amended its Petition to seek alternative relief based on an allegation that Claimant had remarried.

Claimant testified that she is the widow of Decedent and that she has not remarried since the death of her husband. She acknowledged that she resides in a home with Gary McDonald. According to Claimant, she and Mr. McDonald split expenses. They do not currently engage in any sexual activity. Claimant acknowledged that she and Mr. McDonald did previously engage in sexual activity off and on through 2006. Claimant emphasized that she has no intention of marrying Mr. McDonald. She added that the two do not hold themselves out as husband and wife.

At a subsequent hearing, Claimant agreed that she and Mr. McDonald represented to Mr. McDonald's employer that they were common law husband and wife. She agreed that the purpose of their statements was to get her placed on his health insurance. She further acknowledged she and Mr. McDonald have completed their federal income taxes as "married filing jointly." Nonetheless, Claimant stated she never engaged in an official marriage ceremony with Mr. McDonald. She added the two have never discussed that they were a married couple or agreed to being married.

Mr. McDonald also testified in this matter. He agreed he represented to his employer, Phillipsburg Borough, that he and Claimant were common law husband and wife for the purpose of having her placed on his health insurance. He further agreed that the two completed tax forms as "married filing jointly." According to Mr. McDonald, he also attempted to add Claimant to his union benefits as a common law spouse. Mr. McDonald has not represented to other parties that he is married to Claimant. He explained any statements regarding the two being husband and wife were for the sole purpose of saving money. They never agreed to be married.

By a decision dated March 24, 2009, the WCJ denied Employer's Termination Petition. He concluded that Employer failed to meet its burden of proving Claimant was involved in a meretricious relationship. The WCJ further determined that Employer did not establish a right to any relief based upon Claimant entering into a common law marriage. The WCJ acknowledged that, inter alia, Claimant and Mr. McDonald live together, that they engaged in sexual relations for a period of time, that they filed tax returns as a married couple, and that they represented to Mr. McDonald's employer that they were a married couple for insurance purposes. Nonetheless, the WCJ determined that Claimant and Mr. McDonald never formed any intent to enter into common law marriage. Instead, he determined "they have simply tried to 'game the system' by saying that they were common law married when that posture benefited them financially." Dec. dated 3/24/09, p. 5.

In reaching his determination, the WCJ credited the testimony of Mr. McDonald based on his personal observations. He rejected Claimant's testimony as it was clear to him "that she would not hesitate to manipulate the facts in whatever way might be financially beneficial to her."*fn1 Dec. dated 3/24/09, p. 5. The Board affirmed the WCJ's decision. This appeal followed.*fn2

Employer argues on appeal that the WCJ erred in determining it failed to satisfy its burden of establishing Claimant and Mr. McDonald entered into a common law marriage. According to Employer, both individuals expressed their contract of marriage to several people, including those involved in the federal government who would be privy to their income tax information as well as representatives of Mr. McDonald's employer.

Section 307 of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act (Act), Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended, 77 P.S. § 561, provides as follows:

In case of death, compensation shall be computed on the following basis, and distributed to the following persons:

(2) To the widow or widower, if there be no children, fifty-one per centum of wages, but not in excess of the ...


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