(CN) – Two Michigan women cannot annul the marriage of their late sister, who tied the knot in a secret ceremony on her deathbed, the state appeals court ruled.
Ellen Mullin, 50, was heavily sedated and hallucinating as she lay in the hospital dying of cancer of the tongue and lymph nodes, according to her estate.
After Mullin’s sister, Connie Rodenhiser, left the hospital on Oct. 29, 2009, Rene Marco Duenas arrived and the two had a secret late-night wedding.
A nurse and one other individual served as witnesses.
Mullin died approximately one week later. Her sisters, Connie and Jean Rodenhiser, learned of the marriage and took action in court to annul it, claiming Mullin was mentally unstable.
A Kalamazoo judge denied the sisters’ annulment action, and the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed April 17.
“In Michigan, there is a strong presumption regarding the validity of a ceremonial marriage,” the unsigned opinion states. “Indeed, this presumption is one of the strongest known to the law. Such presumption can only be overcome with clear and positive proof that the marriage was not valid.”
Mullins and Duenas had been in an on-again, off-again relationship since 1996, and they were living together when Mullins was hospitalized, the judges said.
“Connie’s credibility was undermined where she arranged for Mullin to execute a durable power of attorney and did not question Mullin’s competency until after the learned of the marriage,” the decision states.
The judges also found that the sisters lacked standing to challenge the validity of the marriage.
“The applicable statutes clearly and unambiguously provide that third-parties do not have standing to bring suit to annul a marriage on grounds that it was procured by fraud,” they wrote.