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Too Late for Ohio Man to Prove He's Not Dead: Judge

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

An Ohio man who is very much alive is stuck being dead in the eyes of the law. Donald Eugene Miller Jr., 61, is literally a dead man walking as far as an Ohio judge is concerned.

In 1994, Judge Allan Davis of the Hancock County Probate Court ruled that Miller was legally dead. Now, nearly 20 years later, the very same judge has denied Miller's request to overturn the ruling.

A double-entendre perfectly sums up the whole situation: Time's up!

Time's Up: Statute of Limitations

Under a legal rule known as the "statute of limitations," a legal claim must be brought within a certain time limit.

These statutes, which apply to both civil and criminal actions, are designed to prevent fraudulent and stale claims from arising.

In this case, Miller's request for a reversal came well after the three-year legal limit for changing the death ruling, which allowed his children to collect his Social Security death benefits. Miller disappeared in 1986 after losing his job, leaving behind mounting child support payment obligations.

Miller explained to the court that at the time, he was an alcoholic. "I just kind of took off, ended up in different places" including Florida and Georgia, he said.

Miller returned to Ohio in 2005 and wanted to overturn the death ruling to reinstate his Social Security number and driver's license, reports The Courier.

Unfortunately for Miller, Judge Davis had to comply with the clearly stated three-year limit, thrusting the judge into a uniquely awkward position.

"We've got the obvious here. A man sitting in the courtroom, he appears to be in good health," Davis said, according to The Courier. Bamboozled, he continued, "I don't know where that leaves you, but you're still deceased as far as the law is concerned."

Resurrection: Challenging the Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is unconstitutional if it immediately curtails an existing remedy or provides so little time that it deprives an individual of a reasonable opportunity to pursue a legal claim.

Such concerns don't apply to Miller's situation.

Miller may still be able to challenge the Social Security Administration in federal court. But he's too dirt poor to pursue it and he'd probably lose anyway because he waited so dang long to bring his legal claim in the first place.

Judge Davis referred to Miller's case as a "strange, strange situation." We produce countless articles about odd-ball news stories -- including the living dead. But this one is truly "legally weird."

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