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Centric v. Buehrer

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Portage

February 26, 2018

LISA CENTRIC, et al., Appellant,
v.
STEVE BUEHRER, ADMINISTRATOR, BUREAU OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION, Appellee.

          Administrative Appeal from the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2015 CV 01018.

          Jennifer L Lawther, Daniel A. Kirschner, and Corey J. Kuzma, Nager, Romaine & Schneiberg Co., L.P.A., 27730 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44132 (For Appellant).

          Mike DeWine, Ohio Attorney General, State Office Tower, 30 East Broad Street, 16th Floor, Columbus, OH 43215, and Jeffrey B. Duber, Assistant Attorney General, State Office Building, 11th Floor, 615 West Superior Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44113 (For Appellee).

          OPINION

          DIANE V. GRENDELL, J.

         {¶1} Appellant, Lisa Centric, appeals from the judgment of the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, granting the appellee, the Administrator of the Bureau of Workers' Compensation's, Motion for Summary Judgment, entering judgment in favor of the defendants as a matter of law, and finding that Centric was not entitled to workers' compensation death benefits. The issue to be determined by this court is whether a court of common pleas has jurisdiction to hear an appeal from the Industrial Commission's decision on the claimant's status as a dependent spouse for the purposes of awarding death benefits under R.C. 4123.59. For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the lower court.

         {¶2} Centric and her four children, Michael, Robert, Alexandria, and Victoria Polichena, filed a claim for workers' compensation death benefits following the death of the children's father and Centric's alleged common law spouse, Leonard Polichena. Polichena died following an accident in which he injured his head while employed by Gano's Auto Clinic. An award of benefits was allowed by the District Hearing Officer[1]but was modified by a Staff Hearing Officer to allow the claim for death benefits for three of the children, but to deny benefits to Michael and Centric. In pertinent part, the Staff Hearing Officer's October 22, 2015 Order stated that Centric was not presumed "dependent" upon Polichena at the time of his death "as there is no evidence contained within the record to establish that the two were married and living together at [that] time." An appeal of the Staff Hearing Officer's decision was refused by the Industrial Commission on November 4, 2015.

         {¶3} On December 17, 2015, Centric and Victoria, Alexandria, and Robert Polichena filed a Notice of Appeal and Petition and Complaint on Appeal in the Portage County Court of Common Pleas. The Complaint stated that they were each "entitled to receive benefits provided by the Workers' Compensation Act of Ohio for all of Leonard Polichena's injuries." It also alleged that Centric was "married to Leonard Polichena at the time of his death and fully dependent upon him for support."

         {¶4} The Administrator of the Bureau of Workers' Compensation filed an Answer on January 26, 2016.

         {¶5} On May 17, 2017, the Administrator filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. It argued that the evidence showed that the presumption of dependency should not apply to Centric, given that she and Polichena had not been together for a number of years. Attached to the Motion for Summary Judgment was Centric's deposition.

         {¶6} Pursuant to Centric's testimony, she and Polichena began living together in 1988, and had four children. While they never officially married, she used Polichena's last name, the two would sometimes refer to each other as "husband and wife, " and held joint bank accounts. Following some relationship problems, and an incident where Polichena kicked their son after the son had fallen and broken his arm, she and the children moved out. Since that incident in 2004, Centric and Polichena lived apart. Centric had her own bank accounts and filed individual tax returns. Various documents filed or signed by Centric reflected that she was single and/or that Polichena had no spouse.

         {¶7} Centric filed a Brief in Opposition on May 31, 2017, arguing that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the issue of her dependency. The Administrator filed a June 6, 2017 Reply.

         {¶8} The trial court issued a Judgment Entry on June 21, 2017, granting the Administrator's Motion for Summary Judgment, finding Centric was not entitled to workers' compensation death benefits and that the defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         {¶9} Centric timely appeals and raises the following assignment of error:

         {¶10} "The Trial Court erred in granting Appellee Bureau of Workers' Compensation's Motion ...


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