Frenchwoman’s struggle to prove existence

Finders InternationalBy Legal Futures Associate Finders International

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated… accredited to the author Mark Twain, the statement has rung true over the last five years for a woman in France who has been trying to convince the authorities that she is very much alive and kicking.

The Guardian newspaper picked up the story of Jeanne Pouchain, declared dead thanks to what was probably a malicious court case where the parties involved did not need to produce a death certificate. Since that time, Ms Pouchain has been unable to get a passport, an identity card, access to the public health system and even struggled to get her Covid vaccine.

How did she end up in this position? In 2000, Ms Pouchain was running her own cleaning business where she employed about 120 people over the 20 years she ran the business. In the autumn of 2000, she lost a contract to clean offices. French employment laws mean that existing staff are transferred as part of the deal when a new company takes over the contract, and she transferred one member of staff using a solicitor and an accountant to deal with the process.

Industrial tribunal action

The woman, named Madam H in the Guardian article, transferred to the new company on 2 January 2001. Four months later, Pouchain said she received a timesheet from Mme H for 200 hours of cleaning in that month. When Ms Pouchain responded, saying that Mme H no longer worked for her and did not pay her, she was taken to an industrial tribunal.

In 2004, an industrial tribunal found that the employment transfer had not been executed properly, despite Ms Pouchain’s claims to the contrary. But Mme H’s lawyer had brought the case against the cleaning company, rather than Ms Pouchain herself and the ruling was later declared null and void.

Five years later, Mme H made another claim against Ms Pouchain personally. The industrial tribunal threw out the new case and in 2013, Ms Pouchain was told that the case against her had been dropped. She faced a €100,000 legal bill but was glad the matter had come to an end.

‘Heirs’ needed to settle the case

However, Ms Pouchain’s lawyer believes Mme H’s lawyer used the pause to draw breath as the case later returned to court, where it was said that Ms Pouchain had died and that her heirs needed to settle the case—something Ms Pouchain’s lawyer believes should not have happened, especially as there was no death certificate.

In 2013, Ms Pouchain wound up her cleaning business and set up a small restaurant. A document was later delivered to their home, addressed to her husband, which informed him of her death as the industrial tribunal case had been reopened in 2016 without her knowledge.

Her ‘heirs’, her husband and son, were ordered to pay €35,000 and 15 days later, her husband and son’s bank accounts were frozen. His car was seized as part of the repayment. Her lawyer has now filed a legal complaint for fraud and false declarations in the criminal court, and a separate case in the civil court to stop Mme H receiving any more of Ms Pouchain’s husband’s assets, and a hearing is due to take place on 31 August 2021.

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