Matter of Walker v NYC Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene

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[*1] Matter of Walker v NYC Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene 2017 NY Slip Op 51217(U) Decided on January 24, 2017 Supreme Court, New York County Billings, J. Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431. This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.

Decided on January 24, 2017
Supreme Court, New York County

In the Matter of the Application of Lashawn N. Williams Walker, Petitioner,

against

NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and MICHELLE CORLEONE, Respondents.



101960/2015



Petitioner Pro Se

For Respondent NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:

Aviva Horowitz, Assistant Corporation Counsel

100 Church Street, New York, NY 10007

Respondent Corleone Pro Se
Lucy Billings, J.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Petitioner seeks to amend the death certificate of Michael Corleone to change Item 16, "Name of Surviving Spouse," from "Michelle Jones" to "LaShawn Williams," petitioner's name, and to change Item 26b, the informant's "Relationship to Deceased," from "wife" to "friend." Petitioner alleges that Michelle Corleone, formerly Michelle Jones, was not the widow of the deceased Michael Corleone, since petitioner had married Michael Corleone in Maryland in 1984, and they were never divorced. Petitioner requested respondent NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to amend the death certificate, which the Department denied because the informant listed on the certificate, respondent Michelle Corleone, did not respond to the Department's request for authorization to amend the certificate.

Petitioner also commenced a prior proceeding in this court seeking the same relief, which the court (Stallman, J.) denied because she failed to present sufficient evidence to support an amendment to the death certificate. Aff. of Aviva Y. Horowitz Ex. D. In that proceeding, petitioner presented a 1984 Maryland certificate of marriage of Michael David Walker and petitioner, a 1993 New York City Civil Court order changing his name to Michael David Corleone, a New York State Workers' Compensation Board determination dated October 23, 2001, that Michelle Corleone is his widow, and respondent Department's denial of her request for the amendment. Id. Ex. C.

Petitioner presents those same documents now, but also includes results of a search of the Maryland State archives showing no divorce decrees issued for Michael Walker or LaShawn Walker between 1986 and 1988, V. Pet. Ex. E, and a search of Maryland's judicial proceedings showing no divorce proceedings involving Michael Walker, advising, however, of the lack of search capability without a case number. V. Pet. Ex. F. Petitioner then amended the exhibits to her petition with certifications from the New York, Bronx, Kings, and Queens County Clerks that they had searched their records and found no divorce decree between petitioner and Michael David Walker from 1986 to the present.

The New York City Health Code, 24 R.C.NY § 207.01, provides the procedure for correcting records such as death certificates:

(a) . . . . Application for amendment of a death certificate or confidential medical report of death shall be made by the person in control of disposition as defined in Article 205 of this Code or by the person identified on the death certificate as providing the personal particulars pursuant to Article 205 of this Code.. . . .(c) No application shall be approved unless the Commissioner or the Commissioner's designee is satisfied that the evidence submitted shows the true facts and that an error or omission was made at the time of preparing and filing of the certificate . . . .

Petitioner would qualify under 24 R.C.NY § 205.01(e)(2) as a "person in control of disposition" entitled to apply for amendment of Michael Corleone's death certificate if she is in fact his surviving spouse. Thus the determinations whether she qualifies to apply for the amendment she seeks under 24 R.C.NY § 201.01(a) and whether her application is to be approved because it shows the "true facts" that she is his surviving spouse under § 201.01(c) are the same.

II. THE DECISION BY THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION BOARD

After Michael Corleone died due to an injury during his employment, the Workers' Compensation Board determined that petitioner's account was less credible than respondent Michelle Corleone's account of their relationship to Michael Corleone and determined that Michelle Corleone, not petitioner, is the widow of Michael Corleone. V. Pet. Ex. C. The decision of the Board is final on all questions among the parties before it. O'Rourke v. Long, 41 NY2d 219, 227 (1976). See Auqui v. Seven Thirty One Ltd. Partnership, 22 NY3d 246, 255 (2013); Liss v. Trans Auto Sys., 68 NY2d 15, 20-21 (1986). Not only are the Board's findings of witnesses' credibility entitled to deference, Campbell v. Interstate Materials Corp., 135 AD3d 1276, 1277 (3d Dep't 2016); Camby v. System Frgt., Inc., 105 AD3d 1237, 1238 (3d Dep't 2013); Roberts v. Waldbaum's, 98 AD3d 1211, 1211 (3d Dep't 2012), but, as Workers' Compensation Law § 23 dictates, this decision precludes different findings here: "An award or decision of the board shall be final and conclusive upon all questions . . . between the parties, unless reversed or modified on appeal therefrom . . . ." See O'Connor v. Midiria, 55 NY2d 538, 540 (1982); O'Rourke v. Long, 41 NY2d at 227-28; Malmon v. East 84th Apt. Corp, 67 AD3d 566, 567 (1st Dep't 2009); King v. Malone Home Bldrs., Inc., 137 AD3d 1646, 1648 (4th Dep't 2016).

Although petitioner does not seek here to challenge the Board's findings directly, she attempts to circumvent its findings that respondent Michelle Corleone is Michael Corleone's widow by amending his death certificate to list petitioner as the surviving spouse. Petitioner's remedy was to appeal that determination to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, Third Department. NY Workers' Comp. Law § 23; O'Rourke v. Long, 41 NY2d at 227; Empire Ins. Co. v. Workers' Compensation Bd., 201 AD2d 435, 426 (1st Dep't 1994); McGuiness v. New York State Workers' Compensation Bd., 41 AD3d 557, 558 (2d Dep't 2007; Esposito v. Petruzzi, 270 AD2d 698, 699 (3d Dep't 2000).



III. PETITIONER'S OTHER EVIDENCE

Although the preclusive effect of the Workers' Compensation Board's decision is grounds alone to deny the petition, petitioner's other evidence in any event fails to establish, as "true facts," that she still was married to Michael Corleone when he died. 24 R.C.NY § 207.01(c). The search of the Maryland State archives database was for divorce decrees between Michael David Walker and petitioner only from April 15, 1986, to April 9, 1988. V. Pet. Ex. E. The search in New York was for divorce decrees between them only in four counties since 1986. This evidence falls short of establishing that Michael Corleone and petitioner were never divorced at any other time or in any other jurisdiction where he may have resided and that they still were married when he died. The evidence shows only that they did not divorce during 1986-[*2]1988 in Maryland or since 1986 in four counties in New York.

Michael Corleone did not marry his second wife until 1989 and his third wife, Michelle Jones, until 1992. V. Pet. Ex. C, at 2. Thus he well may have obtained a decree of divorce from petitioner in Maryland before April 15, 1986, or between April 10, 1988, and his subsequent marriages, or anywhere else he may have resided before his subsequent marriages other than in New York, Bronx, Kings, or Queens Counties after 1986, rendering his third marriage valid.



IV. CONCLUSION

For each of the reasons explained above, both the preclusive effect of the Workers' Compensation Board's decision, and the inconclusiveness of petitioner's evidence, the court denies the petition to amend Michael David Corleone's death certificate.



DATED: January 24, 2017

_____________________________

LUCY BILLINGS, J.S.C.