Legally Dead Man Seeks to Rise from the Grave
Death is more or less a permanent condition. You rarely hear dead people complain about this, but Donald Miller Jr. says his death should be reversed on the grounds that he is alive.
Unfortunately for Miller, Ohio law says his death is irreversible, whether he’s alive or not.
Miller was faced with an alcohol problem, thousands of dollars in unpaid child support and an unexpected job loss in the 1980s, before he shuffled off the legal mortal coil. With bleak prospects, Miller left Ohio and went off the grid, supporting himself through odd jobs in Georgia and Florida.
“It kind of went further than I ever expected it to,” Miller said at his hearing, according to The Courier. “I just kind of took off, ended up in different places.”
Miller’s ex-wife, Robin Miller, requested that he be declared dead so their two children could receive his Social Security death benefit. Her request was granted in 1994, while an unwitting Miller kept on ticking in the Southeast.
Miller eventually made it back to Ohio and seemingly took the news of his untimely passing fairly well. He didn’t try to correct the record until several years later, when he decided he wanted a driver’s license. Stripped of his Social Security number, he couldn’t get one.
“We’ve got the obvious here,” Judge Allan Davis said at Miller’s hearing. “A man sitting in the courtroom, he appears to be in good health.”
“I don’t know where that leaves you, but you’re still deceased as far as the law is concerned.”
To Miller’s dismay, Davis pointed out that there’s a three-year window in which you can change a death ruling in Ohio, and Miller’s window closed 16 years ago.
The expired opportunity meant Judge Davis didn’t have to delve into Robin Miller’s request that the state deny her ex-husband’s plea for life. She was afraid that if her ex rose from the dead, she would have to pay back the Social Security benefit, which she was not in a position to do.
Saved By Death
According to the New York Times, Judge Davis thinks Miller’s unusual case could prompt Ohio lawmakers to tweak the law so that the living couldn’t get trapped in legal purgatory. Such reforms might allow Miller to rejoin the ranks of the living and finally get that driver’s license, but they could also resurrect Miller’s old problems — and even bring him some new ones.
Washington, D.C., attorney Thomas Simeone told Lawyers.com Miller’s death declaration “basically stopped debt collectors from pursuing him because there was no legal party to proceed against.”
“Once he is declared alive, he is a natural person who can be pursued again for debts because the status that provided him protection is gone.”
Miller may be having a hard time appreciating this upside to his legal status as a zombie. Courier reporter Ryan Dunn tweeted from the courthouse that Robin Miller said her ex-husband was “madder than hell” when she mentioned the silver lining.
Simeone said there’s still a chance Miller could dodge the debt if the state brings him back to life, since the statute of limitations for breach of contract should have expired on many of his debts since 1994. But it’s possible that Miller’s bills are waiting to come back to life as well.
“The limitations period may have been tolled or suspended during the period he was declared dead, since it was impossible for the collectors to pursue against him,” Simeone said. Such debts would restart as soon as Miller’s death declaration is reversed, “leaving the debt collectors with whatever time was remaining at the time of the declaration of death to pursue their debts.”
The fact that Miller walked away from his responsibilities could possibly even bring criminal charges if Ohio gives him a second life.
“Failure to pay child support is against the law, as is abandonment, which can be considered child abuse,” Simeone said.
Do you think Ohio should change the law so that the living can’t be declared dead? Tell us if you think Miller is stuck in limbo or caught a lucky loophole to stay out of debt.