A 10-year-old girl conceived from the frozen sperm of a dead man cannot receive his Social Security benefits, a federal appeals court ruled.
On Wednesday, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's rejection of child survivor benefits for Brandalynn Vernoff, who was born nearly four years after her father's death.
The case involved sperm that Bruce Vernoff's widow, Gabriela, had a doctor extract after he died suddenly in 1995. She used it for in vitro fertilization and gave birth to Brandalynn in a Los Angeles hospital on March 17, 1999.
She later applied for child survivor benefits from the Social Security Administration but was rejected. A federal judge in Santa Ana also rejected her claims.
A message left for the widow's attorney was not immediately returned Thursday.
The appellate panel ruling said that while there was an "undisputed biological relationship" between Brandalynn and her father, the girl was not a dependent at the time of his death as defined by Social Security regulations and by California law on the establishment of paternity.
The three-judge panel noted that California law only grants inheritance rights to children conceived within one year after the parent has died. The ruling also said there was no evidence that Vernoff consented to his wife's artificial insemination, which under state law would be required to establish his paternity.
Gabriela Vernoff "has not provided any evidence of consent to the conception by the insured or his willingness to support Brandalynn," the court said.
The appeal was argued May 6 at the 9th Circuit's Pasadena courthouse before Judges Cynthia Holcomb Hall, Andrew J. Kleinfeld and Barry G. Silverman. The opinion was written by Hall.