ELLINGTON, P. J., ANDREWS and RICKMAN, JJ.
ELLINGTON, PRESIDING JUDGE
Munoz Sanchez appeals from the order of the Superior Court of
Colquitt County affirming the award of the Appellate Division
of the State Board of Workers' Compensation denying her
workers' compensation dependency benefits. We affirm
because, although Sanchez was living with and dependent on
Juan Martinez-Martin ("the employee") at the time
of his death from a work-related injury, she was not married
to him, either ceremonially or by common law, and she was
therefore not entitled to recover benefits arising out of
that living arrangement.
reviewing a workers' compensation benefits award, both
this Court and the superior court must construe the evidence
in a light most favorable to the party which prevailed before
the Board. Reid v. Ga. Bldg. Auth., 283 Ga.App. 413
(641 S.E.2d 642) (2007). "It is axiomatic that the
findings of the State Board , when supported by any
evidence, are conclusive and binding, and that neither the
superior court nor this court has any authority to substitute
itself as a fact finding body in lieu of the Board."
(Punctuation and footnote omitted.) Id. However,
"[w]e review de novo erroneous applications of law to
undisputed facts, as well as decisions based on erroneous
theories of law." (Punctuation and footnote omitted.)
Evergreen Packaging, Inc. v. Prather, 318 Ga.App.
440, 443 (734 S.E.2d 209) (2012).
record shows that, following a hearing to determine
Sanchez's entitlement to workers' compensation
dependency benefits, the administrative law judge
("ALJ") found the following. On October 22, 2015,
the employee suffered a fatal head injury when he
accidentally fell from a roof during the course of his
employment with appellee Allen Carter. Carter and its insurer
agreed that the injury was compensable and paid the
employee's medical expenses.
lived continuously with the employee from 2002 until his
death. Sanchez and the employee were never ceremonially
married, although they had discussed getting married and had
planned to be married in church in 2015. Sanchez became
disabled to work in 2011 due to diabetes that affected her
feet, and the employee paid all of Sanchez's living
expenses including the rent and utilities for the home in
which they lived.
concluded that, at the time of his death and for some four
years previously, Sanchez was wholly dependent on the
employee for her support; the employee had no wife or
dependent children; and, other than Sanchez, there were no
other persons who were wholly dependent on the employee at
the time of his death. After setting forth the provisions of
OCGA § 34-9-13, the ALJ held that, insofar as the
"applicable black letter law, " Sanchez was the
person "to whom the statute provides the entire
dependency benefits . . . 'shall be paid.'"
Nevertheless, the ALJ found that in a factually similar case
a claimant had been denied dependency benefits "on the
grounds that such payments should not grow out of a
meretricious relationship, " citing Williams v.
Corbett, 260 Ga. 668 (398 S.E.2d 1) (1990) and Ins.
Co. of North America v. Jewel, 118 Ga.App. 599 (164
S.E.2d 846) (1968). Accordingly, the ALJ held, it was bound
by stare decisis to find that Sanchez was not entitled to
dependency benefits despite her actual dependency on the
appealed the ALJ's decision to the Board, which accepted
the ALJ's findings of fact, adopted the ALJ's
conclusions of law, and affirmed. The Superior Court of
Colquitt County affirmed the Board's decision. This Court
then granted Sanchez's application for discretionary
appeal from the order of the superior court.
contends that the superior court erred in finding that she
was precluded from recovering dependency benefits pursuant to
OCGA § 34-9-13 based on Williams v. Corbett and
the antecedent cases cited therein. In Williams, the
Supreme Court of Georgia granted certiorari to review the
decision of this Court in Williams v. Corbett, 195
Ga.App. 85 (392 S.E.2d 310) (1990), wherein we affirmed the
superior court's reversal of an award of dependency
benefits to the appellant, who had lived with the employee
for eleven years before his accidental death on the job,
although the two never married, nor did they establish a
common law marriage. The Supreme Court found that, in the
context of a workers' compensation claim, a meretricious
relationship works to deny dependency benefits, even if
actual dependency exists. Williams v. Corbett, 260 Ga.
at 668. Further, the Supreme Court "affirm[ed] the
holding of the Court of Appeals that one cannot recover
dependency benefits arising from a living arrangement that
includes neither ceremonial nor common-law marriage."
Supreme Court's holding applies here, as Sanchez was
living with the employee at the time of his death but was not
married to him, either by ceremony or under the common law.
It follows that, notwithstanding actual dependency, she is
not entitled to dependency benefits arising from that living
points out that, following Williams, our legislature
adopted OCGA § 19-3-1.1, which provides in applicable
part: "No common-law marriage shall be entered into in
this state on or after January 1, 1997." She argues that
her relationship with the employee would have fallen within
the definition of common law marriage before it was abolished
and is not "meretricious, " and, therefore,
Williams does not deny her dependency benefits under
OCGA § 34-9-13 (d). Even if we were to agree with
Sanchez that her relationship with the deceased may have been
considered a common law marriage before 1997, Sanchez cannot
be deemed married by common law to the employee based on a
relationship that commenced in 2002. Williams sets forth
a clear rule which, as applied to this case, precludes an
award of benefits, and we are not free to modify the holding
of our Supreme Court. See Pak v. Ga. Dept. of Behavioral
Health & Developmental Disabilities, 317 Ga.App.
486, 488 (731 S.E.2d 384) (2012). Williams revealed
a debate among the justices as to whether the sole
requirement for an award of dependency benefits under OCGA
§ 34-9-13 (d) should be dependency in
fact. Our Supreme Court might choose to revisit
that issue, but the superior court was not free to disregard
Williams, and it did not err in affirming the
Board's decision. See Ga. Const. of 1983, Art.
VI, Sec. VI, Para. VI (“The decisions of the Supreme
Court shall bind all other courts as precedents.”).
Andrews and ...