Clark v. Office of Personnel Management
256 F.3d 1360 (2001)

  • Michaels’ wife, Melonie was a Federal employee. That gave her an employee death benefit to be paid to Michael if she died.
    • Under Federal regulations, the benefits go to the “surviving spouse.”
  • The relationship didn’t go well and Melonie moved out. There was an altercation and a gun battle that left Michael, Melonie, and Melonie’s parents all dead.
    • There was some debate over who shot who, but the police report found that Michael had intentionally killed Melonie.
  • Michael’s brother Phillip went to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and applied for Melonie’s death benefits, which would go to him as Michael’s heir.
    • Phillip was also the appointed guardian of Michael and Melonie’s children, so he probably wanted the money for their benefit.
  • OPM denied Phillip’s application. Phillip appealed.
    • OPM found that there is a principle that one who kills his spouse cannot inherit from that spouse.
  • The OPM Administrative Judge affirmed. Phillip appealed.
  • The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed. Phillip appealed.
  • The Federal Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that Alabama State law prohibits killers from profiting from their crimes.
      • Alabama’s “Slayer Statute” says that one who feloniously and intentionally kills their spouse is deemed to have predeceased the decedent and is thus ineligible to receive “surviving spouse” benefits.
        • This is also true under general common law.
          • Since this involved a Federal Agency, the Alabama State Statute didn’t apply, but the common law principles still apply.
    • Phillip unsuccessfully argued that Michael had never been to court and had never been convicted of killing anyone, so the Slayer Statute should not apply.
      • The Appellate Court found that the Slayer Statute must be applied where there is a conviction, but absence of a conviction doesn’t mean that it cannot be applied.
  • This common law principle only applies to intentional acts. If you accidentally kill someone, even if you are held liable, you can still inherit.
    • Unlike criminal guilt though, you only have to show that the person was responsible for the intentional act by a preponderance of evidence (the civil liability standard).
  • The courts can also use constructive trusts to bar a killer’s relatives from inheriting on the theory that if they die then the killer might get the money.