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Court denies benefits for girl conceived from dead father's sperm

June 18, 2009 | 11:17 am

A 10-year-old Los Angeles girl conceived from the frozen sperm of a dead man will not receive his Social Security benefits, a U.S. appeals court has ruled.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday the child, Brandalynn Vernoff, was not dependent on her father at the time of his death. In California, dependency is determined by the parent-child relationship rather than the marital status of the parents, according to the decision.

Brandalynn’s father, Bruce Vernoff, died accidentally in July 1995. Shortly after his death, his wife, Gabriela Vernoff, extracted his sperm and gave birth to Brandalynn in 1999. Gabriela Vernoff, who lives in Baldwin Hills, was denied a claim for child survivor benefits in 1999 with the Social Security Administration.

James Raetz, one of Gabriela Vernoff’s attorneys, said California has a system set up to protect sperm bank donors, and this case is an unintended consequence of the law.

Bruce Vernoff’s sperm was removed after his death, and there was no evidence of plans for a birth after the father’s death, according to court documents.

“That’s the big distinction,” Raetz said. “The court really hung on that.”

However, Raetz said, the couple did have plans for a baby.

“No matter what, she’s a single mom trying to raise her daughter,” he said.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz