Ohio Man Informed That He’s Legally Dead

An Ohio man has been told by a local judge that, as far as the law is concerned, he’s dead:

Donald Eugene Miller Jr. walked out of Hancock County Probate Court on Monday as legally dead as ever.

In 1994, the court ruled that Miller was legally dead, eight years after he disappeared from his Arcadia rental home.

The same judge, Allan Davis, ruled Monday that Miller is still dead, in the eyes of the law. Miller’s request for a reversal came well after the three-year legal limit for changing a death ruling, Davis said.

Miller, 61, now of Fostoria, spoke softly in court and offered few details about his past.

Miller said he was an alcoholic who was unsure what to do after losing his job.

“My paycheck was being taken away from me and I had nothing left,” he said.

“It kind of went further than I ever expected it to,” Miller said. “I just kind of took off, ended up in different places,” he said.

He said he briefly worked odd jobs in Atlanta and Marathon, Fla., after leaving Hancock County sometime before 1990.

His parents informed him of his “death” upon his return to Ohio in about 2005, he said.

Miller told Judge Davis he neither sought alcohol treatment nor contacted his children in the time after he left.

Miller said he would like to start his life again, or “whatever’s left of it.” He asked the court to reverse its 1994 death ruling so he can reinstate his canceled Social Security number and driver’s license.

The court said no.

Hey, the law is the law.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. rodney dill says:

    Does this mean he doesn’t have to sign up for Obamacare?

  2. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Sounds like a pass to go on a crime spree. Can you charge a dead man with a crime?

    “Dead man gives cop wedgie, walks free”

    “Local walking corpse defecates on pigeon, declares it ‘payback'”

  3. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @rodney dill: Does this mean he doesn’t have to sign up for Obamacare?

    Since “death” is a pre-existing condition, he can’t be denied coverage.

    The real surprise for him was when he discovered he’d been voting Democratic for almost 20 years…

  4. James Pearce says:

    @rodney dill:

    Does this mean he doesn’t have to sign up for Obamacare?

    Probably not, but if he moves to South Carolina, he can probably still vote.

  5. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Ultimate casting stunt: give him a cameo on “The Walking Dead.”

  6. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @James Pearce: Jinx! Beat you to it.

    By less than a minute, but seconds count…

  7. rodney dill says:

    @James Pearce: Heh, or Chicago.

  8. rodney dill says:

    I found a couple of links that discuss this sort of issue, but none yet that explain (satisfactorily to me) how his new legal identity (or non-identity as the case may be) are handled by the law.

    http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2253/what-happens-when-someone-legally-dead-shows-up-alive

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declared_death_in_absentia

  9. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Jinx! Beat you to it.

    Yeah, you did. We should send both jokes to Jay Leno and whichever one he uses on the Tonight Show…..

    That guy loses.

  10. rodney dill says:

    He should sneak into Mexico, then sneak back into the US as an illegal immigrant, Then he’d be able to get health care, vote, get a drivers license, get EBT….

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    I’ve worked with plenty of people who showed no signs of brain activity but never with one who was legally dead.

  12. rudderpedals says:

    Death becomes him.
    He died before he got old. He did not leave a pretty corpse.
    He regrets all the time wasted worrying about things he could not change.

  13. rod mantia says:

    time to sue the state for wrongful death…

  14. Robert in SF says:

    OK, serious legal question here, for Doug or any other lawyer in the group:

    If a Judge issues an order for a executive office to do something, does the executive office have to appeal the order somehow in order to not do it?

    In other words, if the Judge had just ignored the law in this case, which isn’t so much criminal law I guess but organizational law about time-frames, and told the Office of Whatever Deals with This, “Hey, register this guy as alive and reinstate him in all the systems that deal with live people”, would they pretty much have to do it (or face contempt of court charges I suppose)?

    If the person who actually enters the keystrokes that updates the systems (or stamps a form…the actual physical actions to register him as alive) went ahead and did it, and no one had really disagreed with the order in actual execution, couldn’t it just be done regardless?

    So, if a Judge orders an agency to do something that is “illegal” but the Agency is fine with it, how could it be stopped, legally speaking? Someone would have to appeal the order right?

  15. Franklin says:

    Okay, then. Did the court have any suggestions about, you know, getting a new SS# or anything? Or did they just leave it hanging? “You don’t exist, have a nice day.”

  16. al-Ameda says:

    And what’s even more remarkable, is that he already has more power among House Republicans than does John Boehner.

  17. Rick Almeida says:

    I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative, this comment thread is genuinely funny. Well played, Rodney and Jenos.

  18. rodney dill says:

    @Robert in SF: @Franklin: Those were the kind of questions that made me look up links for my one serious comment above. There seem to be references to precedents where insurance companies have won back money from ‘legally dead’ individuals, but I didn’t find anything on what does the individual do from that point on to address issues like a new SS#, license, record of education, etc..

  19. Franklin says:

    @rodney dill: Thanks. I had skipped your earlier post, but yeah, the links don’t seem to address my question. I did a couple other quick searches – some people are asking the same questions, but no answers yet.

  20. Gromitt Gunn says:

    If he was able to discharge his student loans, I’ll be pissed!

  21. grumpy realist says:

    The reason for declaring someone legally dead is to put a line under their estate, sale of property, etc. No backsies, in other words. Otherwise property rights could be in a constant state of confusion. (One of the reasons that post-mortem accusations of treason/excommunication dropped out of favour in Renaissance Europe–they were wrecking havoc with property rights.)

    I’m still surprised about the Social Security stuff, however. I guess the court was looking at what happened with his estate and carried over the effects to his SS payments.

    It’s sort of the financial equivalent of adverse possession/laches: you can’t wait on your rights for too long–if you do, you lose them.

    Does anyone know if Ohio is one of those states that has statutory limits on when someone is declared dead?

    It might have also depended on the legal argument that was made–supposedly declaring someone dead is proceeded by providing notice to the individual. Since most of the people in this situation don’t leave behind addresses, the courts deal with it by publication in a newspaper. (All of this is well-founded in standard civil procedure, by the way.) After publication, the individual has a grace period of time to pop up and say “hey, I’m not dead!” The best argument I can think of that this guy should have used is that there was no possible way for him to have seen any of the publications or been informed about them; in other words, sufficient notice was not given.

    If he just tried to argue by popping up and saying “hey! I’m not dead!”, that’s an insufficient legal argument.

    Note it’s not like that the guy is getting killed–it’s just that any property he had under his old name has been disbursed through what seems to be due process, so it’s not like he’s got a good Fifth Amendment argument here, either.

    Your thoughts, Doug?

  22. grumpy realist says:

    P.S. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why he couldn’t apply for another driver’s license or another social security card.

  23. rodney dill says:

    @grumpy realist: I agree that your P.S. post is probably along the line of what would be done, I just couldn’t find any precedent or stories along the line that that is how it would be done.

    …and as you covered in the previous comment curtailing all the legal entanglements by declaring someone legally dead is a necessary mechanism for long term missing persons to let the rest go on with their lives.

  24. grumpy realist says:

    Reading the original article, it looks like the whole situation came about because the guy vamoosed in order to not pay child support payments, so after a while his ex-wife petitioned the court to declare the guy dead so she could access the $$ available under Social Security payments to children of deceased parents. Now that the gentleman in question is near the age of being eligible for Social Security, he wants to re-establish his existence, far after the statutory deadline of 3 years.

    Basically, all the court is saying is “you screwed up and no, no backsies on this. You’ve lost your Social Security credits and you’ve lost whatever property you had. Get lost.”

  25. Negrodamus says:

    So if he was to commit a crime he would not be entitled to legal representation or would he be considered a God amongst men and truly be above the law.

    Its not like physical death is going to bother this guy.

  26. Tyrell says:

    @grumpy realist: But he is still legally dead and it would be illegal for him to get Social Security or any benefits. When they run a check he will show up as dead. But then a dead person can’t be charged with a crime.