Spradlin v. United States, Civ. No. 2639.

Decision Date12 January 1967
Docket NumberCiv. No. 2639.
PartiesOtha J. SPRADLIN, on Behalf of Kevin O. Spradlin, Plaintiff, v. The UNITED STATES of America, and Anthony J. Celebrezze, Secretary of Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Montana

Rapkoch & McKinney, Leonard H. McKinney, Lewistown, Mont., for plaintiff.

Moody Brickett, U. S. Atty., Robert T. O'Leary, Asst. U. S. Atty., Butte, Mont., for defendants.


RUSSELL E. SMITH, District Judge.

Claimant seeks to review a decision of the Appeals Council affirming a decision of a Hearing Examiner denying social security benefits to Kevin Otha Spradlin (called Kevin) for a period prior to September, 19651 on the ground that Kevin, being illegitimate, was not the child of the wage earner for social security purposes.

Kevin was the natural child of Vernon Spradlin (called Vernon) and Theresa Spradlin (called Theresa) born in Great Falls, Montana, July 8, 1958.

As the hearing officer found, Vernon and Theresa lived together as man and wife from September, 1957 to approximately September, 1960. Vernon died on October 30, 1960.2 The record shows that during the whole period they held each other out as man and wife. Kevin's birth certificate, signed by Theresa, shows Theresa and Vernon to be the mother and father of Kevin, and the baptism records (September, 1958) show a Mr. and Mrs. Vernon William Spradlin to be the parents of Kevin. Both Vernon and Theresa attended this baptismal ceremony. Vernon acknowledged Kevin to be his son to his friends and relatives and supported Theresa and Kevin until his death. Kevin's middle name, Otha, is the name of Vernon's father.

The Appeals Council while properly holding that a consensual or common-law marriage is recognized in Montana3, did not properly apply the presumptions created by Montana law.4 Once it appeared that Vernon and Theresa were deporting themselves as husband and wife, the law presumed that they had entered into a lawful contract of marriage.5 This presumption was not vitiated by proof of the fact that both parties had been previously married, because it is presumed that a second marriage had been preceded by a lawful dissolution of the former marriage. "Every presumption will be indulged in favor of the legality of a common-law marriage in the same way and to the same extent as the law indulges them in favor of a ceremonial marriage."6

In Montana a presumption has the effect of evidence and is overcome as a matter of law only when in light of the proved facts reasonable men could no longer find in accordance with the presumed fact.7

It is quite clear that the Appeals Council did not properly evaluate the effect of presumptions in Montana. The opinion of the Appeals Council in this respect reads:

"In the absence of a ceremonial marriage, a valid relationship between the wage earner and Theresa may be established only by proof of a common-law marriage, a relationship which is recognized in Montana. The courts of Montana recognize a common-law or consensual marriage where the parties are otherwise capable of marrying, mutually consent thereto, and mutual consent is followed by a public assumption of the marriage relation. The claimant cites the presumption of the Montana law which favor sic matrimony and presume that a man and woman deporting themselves as married have entered into a valid contract of marriage. Clearly, there is evidence here from friends and neighbors that the couple held themselves out as married and lived together as a family unit. Nonetheless, because of the unavailability of Theresa, there is no evidence of the marital intent of the parties nor of present consent to be husband and wife. No mutual consent has been demonstrated. Theresa herself did not allege a common-law relationship, but claimed a ceremonial marriage which could not be verified. Moreover, the evidence fails to establish conclusively that either Theresa or the wage earner was competent to enter into a marriage contract. Dissolution of the wage earner's marriage to Marilyn has not been proven, nor has it been shown that Theresa's prior unions had terminated. Accordingly, the Appeals Council must conclude, and does hereby find, that no valid common-law marriage existed between the wage earner and Theresa." (Emphasis supplied)

The underlined portions of the opinion are at variance with the Montana law. The presumption itself was proof of a marriage, ceremonial or common-law. If the hearing officer or the Appeals Council were to weigh on one side the presumption and on the other evidence to the effect that Theresa claimed the ceremonial marriage in places where no record of such could be found, it would be entitled to find as a fact that there was no ceremonial marriage. If there was no ceremonial marriage, the presumption would be sufficient to establish both the capacity of the parties and the consent of the parties for the purposes of the common-law marriage. The statute creating the presumption,8 by the use of the words "lawful contract" embraces both the fact of the consent and the capacity to consent. On the issue of capacity to marry the presumption of marriage should be weighed on the one side and on the other side should be weighed the fact that the court records in two counties in Nevada9 do not show that Vernon secured a divorce from...

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6 cases
  • Snetsinger v. Montana University System, 03-238.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • 30 Diciembre 2004
    ...presumption is "itself sufficient to establish the marriage unless overcome by other evidence." Spradlin v. United States (D.Mont.1967), 262 F.Supp. 502, 505. "The effect of [the marital] presumption, of course, is to place the burden on the other party to overcome the presumption." Murnion......
  • Grey v. Heckler, 709
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • 24 Octubre 1983
    ...under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 416(h) to give the same effect to state-created presumptions that a state court would. Spradlin v. United States, 262 F.Supp. 502, 504 n. 4 (D.Mont.1967). Once the presumption is rebutted, no evidence of any weight remains on the record to show that Mozell was not Arthu......
  • Crosby v. Ellsworth, 23288.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • 31 Agosto 1970
    ...etc., 78 Mont. 370, 254 P. 179, 182 (1927); Shepherd & Pierson Co. v. Baker, 81 Mont. 185, 262 P. 887 (1927); Spradlin v. United States, 262 F.Supp. 502, 504 (D.C.Mont. 1967). In Welch, the Montana Supreme Court "* * * whenever a marriage has been established, there is a presumption in favo......
  • Brooks v. Gardner
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • 16 Noviembre 1967
    ...1966); Colegate v. Gardner, 265 F.Supp. 987 (D. C.Ohio 1967); Evans v. Gardner, 263 F. Supp. 559 (D.C.Ark.1967); Spradlin v. United States, 262 F.Supp. 502 (D.C. Mont.1967); Gray v. Gardner, 261 F. Supp. 736 The Appeals Council in arriving at its decision relied upon a memorandum prepared b......
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