Bowers v. Getter Trucking Co., 4227

Decision Date09 October 1973
Docket NumberNo. 4227,4227
Citation514 P.2d 837
PartiesLela M. BOWERS, Widow of Deceased Thomas Ira Bowers, Appellant (Claimant below), v. GETTER TRUCKING COMPANY, Appellee (Employer-defendant below), v. WYOMING STATE TREASURER ex rel. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION DEPARTMENT, Appellee(Objector-defendant below).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Lonabaugh & Bonner, and Dennis G. Bonner, Sheridan, for appellant.

Donald L. Painter, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Casper, for jappellee, Wyoming State Treasurer.

No appearance for appellee Getter Trucking Co.


Mr. Justice McCLINTOCK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Lela M. Bowers appeals to this Court from adverse judgment of the District Court of Campbell County, Wyoming, denying her benefits claimed to be due her as the result of the death of her alleged husband, Thomas Ira Bowers. Although both the employer ane Wyoming State Treasurer appeared as objectors in the trial of the case, no brief has been filed in behalf of the employer and only the Treasurer has appeared as appellee.

Bowers, an employee of Getter Trucking Company, was killed while performing duties in connection with his employment. Claimant filed an application and claim for award under the workmen's compensation law, alleging that she was the wife and a dependent of the deceased at the time of his accident and death.

The Treasurer filed an objection to an award, alleging that claimant is not and never has been married to deceased by 'a marriage duly solemnized by a legal ceremony.' The objection contains no allegation or claim that Lela M. Bowers was not in truth and in fact the wife of Thomas Ira Bowers at the time of his death. Thus, the only defense presented by the treasurer is whether Lela M. Bowers had been married to the deceased by a marriage duly solemnized by a legal ceremony.

The case was tried to the court on apparently divergent theories, the claimant attempting to establish a common-law marriage under Texas law and the Treasurer, employer, and trial court proceeding on the theory that the only question was whether there was a marriage duly solemnized by a legal ceremony. It is conceded that there never has been such formal marriage.

Several times during trial counsel for the claimant undertook to solicit testimony concerning the agreement of marriage in Texas. Counsel for the employer repeatedly objected on the ground that this was incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial and was consistently sustained. An offer of proof by claimant's attorney was denied, with the court holding the matter irrelevant and immaterial to the issue to be resolved.

Notwithstanding such difficulties of proof, the record does show that the parties had lived together for 14 years, initiating the relationship in Texas in 1958, receiving mail as Mr. and Mrs. Tom Bowers, and were considered by members of the family to be husband and wife. Claimant testified, 'We made our vows to one another and lived up to them better than most people that are married in church.'

Ultimately, the employer's attorney moved that claimant's claim be dismissed as failing to show that the parties were legally married by a marriage duly solemnized by a legal ceremony as required by sec. 27-87, W.S.1957, C.1967. That seems to be the only question decided. During the course of argument, the trial judge stated more than once something like this: 'You can assume that this would meet the requirements in Texas.' Following argument the motion was sustained.

Thus, it is very apparent, on the face of the record, that the trial court never reached the question of whether the common-law marriage of Lela M. Bowers to the decedent, in Texas, met all of the requirements for a valid common-law marriage according to the laws of Texas. 1 Although the objection to an award did not contest the validity of the marriage under common law of Texas, and although there is no finding upon such issue by the trial court, the Treasurer does contend in this Court that evidence of such valid marriage is lacking. As to what is required to make a common-law marriage valid, when consummated in Texas, see Tatum v. Tatum (Tex.Civ.App.1972), 478 S.W.2d 629, 630-631; Flores Gonzalez v. Viuda de Gonzalez (Tex.Civ.App.1971), 466 S.W.2d 839, 840-841; Howard v. Howard (Tex.Civ. App.1970), 459 S.W.2d 901, 903-904; Morris v. Morris (Tex.Civ.App.1971), 463 S.W.2d 295, 296; Shelton v. Belknap (1955), 155 Tex. 37, 282 S.W.2d 682, 684-686; and Wyble v. Minvielle (La.App.1971), 217 So.2d 684, 687-689.

Section 27-87, W.S.1957, C.1967, provides in pertinent part as follows:

'If the workman dies and leaves a widow or an invalid widower, to whom he or she has been regularly married by a marriage duly solemnized by a legal ceremony, such surviving spouse shall receive the sum of thirteen thousand dollars ($13,000.00) * * *.'

Also, in connection with definitions, sec. 27-47(II.) (d), W.S.1957, C.1967, specifies:

'No spouse shall be entitled to the benefits of this act nor shall such fact influence any awards made hereunder unless he or she shall have been married to the workman by a marriage duly solemnized by legal ceremony at the time of the injury;'

When the two sections set out above are construed together, as they must be, it is clear that the legislature has attempted to allow death benefits to a widow who has been married by a marriage solemnized by a legal ceremony and to expressly deny death benefits to a widow who has not been so married.

The appellant contends she was legally married to the decedent by a common-law marriage consummated in the state of Texas as where common-law marriages are recognized, and that she and decedent lived together as husband and wife for approximately 14 years. Her attorney points to sec. 20-21, W.S.1957, which states that all marriage contracts without this state, which would be valid by the laws of the country in which the same were contracted, shall be valid in the courts of this state. He then argues that the trial court has erroneously interpreted sec. 27-87 as implying a requirement that a ceremonial marriage must have been performed and asks us to reverse this action by placing a definitive interpretation on the statute consistent with the full faith and credit provision of the federal constitution. In this way he seeks to avoid a direct constitutional attack upon the statutes 2 although he says there exists a constitutional question which should properly be decided by this Court.

If the statute is plain and unambiguous, as we think it is, we may not give it a different meaning, town of Clearmont v. a different meaning, Town of Clearmont v. 357 P.2d 470, 475. We agree with the trial court that the statutes do deny to the widow of a common-law marriage validly consummated in another state the benefits of our workmen's compensation law.

The Treasurer contends that the decision in this case and the denial of benefits to the claimant is clearly sustained by the previous decision of this Court in Trent v. Union Pacific Railroad Company (1951), 68 Wyo. 146, 231 P.2d 180 where this Court held that secs. 27-49(II.) (d) and 27-87, as above cited, were a proper classification under the directions of sec. 4 of Art. 10 of the Wyoming Constitution and...

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7 cases
  • Jim's Water Service v. Eayrs
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • March 6, 1979
    ...and cohabitation were all proven sufficiently by uncontradicted testimony and presumption of law. Cases cited in Bowers v. Getter Trucking Company, Wyo., 514 P.2d 837 (1973) may have required a different result, but they were decided before the amendment of § 27-12-408(a), W.S.1977. The sta......
  • Brenner v. City of Casper
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    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • July 25, 1986
    ...v. Board of County Commissioners, Wyo., 568 P.2d 869 (1977); Stambaugh v. State, Wyo., 566 P.2d 993 (1977); Bowers v. Getter Trucking Co., Wyo., 514 P.2d 837 (1973); Pan American Petroleum Corp. v. Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, Wyo., 446 P.2d 550 (1968); State ex rel. Fire Figh......
  • K N Energy, Inc. v. City of Casper, 86-69
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    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • May 11, 1988
    ...v. Board of County Commissioners, Wyo., 568 P.2d 869 (1977); Stambaugh v. State, Wyo., 566 P.2d 993 (1977); Bowers v. Getter Trucking Company, Wyo., 514 P.2d 837 (1973); Pan American Petroleum Corporation v. Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, Wyo., 446 P.2d 550 (1968); State ex rel.......
  • Knudson v. Hilzer
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    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • June 29, 1976
    ...according to facts as they exist. In re Edelman's Estate, 1951, 68 Wyo. 30, 49-50, 228 P.2d 408, 415. See also Bowers v. Getter Trucking Company, Wyo.1973, 514 P.2d 837; State ex rel. Fawcett v. Board of County Commissioners of Albany County, 1954, 73 Wyo. 69, 87, 273 P.2d 188, 198; Owl Cre......
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