Lawyers Convince Court Client Never Died

Sharolyn Jackson never died. So ruled a Philadelphia court on June 10, 2014. As a result, the formerly homeless, 51-year-old Ms. Jackson can obtain social security benefits including medical care.

This unique judicial ruling arose from unusual facts. Ms. Jackson is physically and cognitively disabled and thus entitled to social security. With the help of social workers from Horizon House, a Philadelphia-based agency that provides services to people with mental health and other needs, she was living on her social security benefits in a West Philadelphia apartment when she went missing in July 2013. The body of a woman fitting her description was found on a street. Ms. Jackson’s son and a social worker who knew Ms. Jackson mistakenly identified the body as her based on a photo of the face of the dead woman, proving the difficulty of making correct identification based on photos. The body was buried on August 3rd. A death certificate was signed and issued. On August 16th, thirteen days after the funeral, Ms. Jackson was found by social service workers from Horizon House very much alive on a street corner in Center City Philadelphia.

Following the declaration of death, a death certificate was sent to state and federal agencies in accordance with a standard protocol. As a result, Ms. Jackson’s federal social security benefits stopped.

To get the benefits back, Ms. Jackson needed to be recognized as legally alive. The Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP) came to the rescue. HAP is a Philadelphia based non-profit that provides free legal services to homeless people and families. HAP had previously assisted Ms. Jackson to obtain social security benefits.

HAP turned to Steve Harvey and David Dzara of Steve Harvey Law LLC to represent Ms. Jackson. They filed a petition for rescission of the death certificate in the Orphans’ Court Division of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. On June 10, 2014, following an evidentiary hearing, Judge Joseph D. O’Keefe granted the petition and made a specific finding that Ms. Jackson is not dead.

So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t get lost in Philadelphia? Maybe, but more importantly we should all be grateful for and supportive of the work of HAP, Horizon House, and all of the other social and legal services agencies that provide so much help to the poor in our communities.