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Young v. Air Masters Mechanical Inc.

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

April 16, 2019

BOBBIE YOUNG, ON BEHALF OF THE HEIRS OF DANIEL LEE TEWKSBURY, DECEASED APPELLANT
v.
AIR MASTERS MECHANICAL INC. AND ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF MISSISSIPPI INC. APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/15/2018

          MISSISSIPPI WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JOHN HUNTER STEVENS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: ROGER C. RIDDICK, CATHERINE BRYANT BELL

         EN BANC.

          GREENLEE, J.

         ¶1. Daniel Tewksbury died on April 5, 2015, as a result of an accidental injury that arose within the course and scope of his employment for Air Masters Mechanical. His ex-wife, Bobbie Young, filed a petition with the Workers' Compensation Commission on behalf of their two minor children, asking for $34, 759 in unpaid child support that accrued prior to the children's adoption by Young's husband, Gerald Allen Young Jr. After stipulating to the amount of unpaid child support, the parties submitted the case to an administrative judge (AJ) who found that the $34, 759 lien for child support was valid and payable pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 71-3-129 (Rev. 2011). The Workers' Compensation Commission reversed the AJ's order, finding that the minor children were ineligible for benefits because they were not dependents of Tewksbury under Mississippi Code Annotated section 71-3-25 (Rev. 2011).

         ¶2. Upon review, we find that the Commission misapprehended the controlling legal principles; we therefore reverse and remand to the Commission for the reasons discussed below.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶3. Tewksbury and Young were divorced in Jackson County, Mississippi on May 1, 2006. At the time of their divorce, Tewksbury was ordered to pay $105 per week in child support for their two minor children, Lane and Emma. Tewksbury made some periodic payments of child support over the course of two years, but stopped making payments in 2008.

         ¶4. Young subsequently married Gerald Allen Young Jr., and they filed a petition in the Pearl River County Chancery Court seeking the adoption of Lane and Emma. On August 13, 2013, the chancery court entered an adoption decree, whereby Gerald adopted Lane and Emma and the children's surnames were changed to "Young." Tewksbury terminated his parental rights on August 1, 2013, as part of the adoption. At that point in time, Tewksbury owed $34, 759 in child support.

         ¶5. Following Tewksbury's death in April 2015, Young filed a petition with the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission on behalf of Lane and Emma, asking for the $34, 759 in outstanding child support. By agreement of the parties, the case was submitted for a hearing before an AJ in September 2017. At the hearing, the parties stipulated that Tewksbury owed $34, 759 in child support and that termination of his parental rights did not extinguish or reduce the amount owed.

         ¶6. The AJ held that by statute, the $34, 759 child support lien filed with the Commission was valid and payable provided the notice provisions of section 71-3-129 had been met. On February 15, 2018, the full Commission reversed the AJ's findings, finding instead that due to their adoption, Lane and Emma were no longer Tewksbury's dependents and were therefore ineligible for any death benefits. Young timely appealed.

         STANDARD ...


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