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Date of Issue: December 30, 2009

Judge denies motion to dismiss Buehler case

Thomas Buehler, husband of missing Sabine Musil-Buehler, in a preliminary hearing to have his wife declared legally deceased. Islander Photo: Courtesy Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/

Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas Dec. 22 denied a life insurance company’s motion to dismiss a court petition to declare missing motel-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler deceased.

Musil-Buehler has not been seen since Nov. 4, 2008. Her estranged husband, Tom Buehler, with whom she ran Haley’s Motel in Holmes Beach, has asked the circuit court to declare her dead.

On Dec. 23, Nicholas held a hearing — less than 30 minutes — on a motion to dismiss filed by attorney Kathy Massing, who represents Great American Life Insurance Co. Great American issued a $300,000 life insurance policy on Musil-Buehler that names Tom Buehler as the beneficiary.

“Our basic objection is to the fact that we don’t belong in this case,” Massing told Nicholas. “Our client should not be a party at this juncture.”

Massing reviewed her motion, which claimed three problems with the petition for declaratory relief filed by attorney William Meeks on behalf of Buehler.

The motion stated, “Florida law is clear. Where an insured has disappeared or is otherwise missing, a cause of action against a carrier, based on a life insurance policy, does not accrue until the expiration of the five-year period.”

“She’s been missing just over one year,” Massing said at the hearing, adding that the facts do not show “that a declaration of death should be granted at this time.”

Furthermore, Massing said that coverage under the insurance policy has not been triggered because Buehler has not filed a claim and the insurer has not received a death certificate.

Additionally, Massing said, Meeks’ filing did not include a copy of the insurance policy, a technicality that should result in dismissal.

Meeks, responding, said that case law suggests that the insurance company has an interest in the case, and that’s why he named the company as a defendant.

“If the insurance company doesn’t want to be involved … then we don’t care,” Meeks said.

The court will hold another hearing on whether Musil-Buehler should be declared dead, but Meeks, at last week’s hearing, emphasized, “The sheriff’s department is conducting a homicide investigation.”

Musil-Buehler was last seen by her boyfriend, William Cumber, who is now in prison on an unrelated charge. He has told Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigators that Musil-Buehler left their apartment in Anna Maria after an argument Nov. 4, 2008.

Musil-Buehler’s car was found Nov. 6, 2008, after a high-speed chase in Bradenton. The vehicle had been stolen from a 14th Street parking lot and contained some of Musil-Buehler’s possessions, as well as her blood.

She was declared a missing person that day, but the MCSO has said that she was likely killed.

Florida law provides for the issuance of a death certificate for “a person who is absent from the place of his or her last known domicile for a continuous period of five years and whose absence is not satisfactorily explained after diligent search and inquiry is presumed to be dead.”

The law also states, that “evidence showing that the absent person was exposed to a specific peril of death may be a sufficient basis for the court determining at any time after such exposure that he or she died less than five years after the date on which his or her absence commenced.”

Buehler’s complaint states, “On Nov. 6, 2008, Sabine Musil-Buehler was exposed to a specific peril of death in that the evidence would show that on that date she was abducted and killed.”