427 U.S. 495 (1976), 75-88, Mathews v. Lucas

Docket Nº:No. 75-88
Citation:427 U.S. 495, 96 S.Ct. 2755, 49 L.Ed.2d 651
Party Name:Mathews v. Lucas
Case Date:June 29, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 495

427 U.S. 495 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 2755, 49 L.Ed.2d 651

Mathews

v.

Lucas

No. 75-88

United States Supreme Court

June 29, 1976

Argued January 13, 1976

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND

Syllabus

The Social Security Act provides that a child of an individual who died fully insured under the Act, is entitled to surviving child's benefits if the child is under 18, or a student under 22, and was dependent at the time of the parent's death. A child is considered dependent if the insured parent was living with him or contributed to the child's support at the time of death. Certain children, however, need not submit such individualized proof of dependency. Unless adopted by some other person, a child who is legitimate or would be entitled to inherit from the insured parent under state law is considered dependent at the time of the parent's death, or even lacking this relationship under state intestacy law is entitled to a presumption of dependency if the decedent before death had gone through a marriage ceremony with the other parent, resulting in a purported marriage which, but for a nonobvious defect, would have been valid, or had acknowledged in writing that the child was his, or had been decreed by a court to be the child's father, or had been ordered by a court to support the child because the child was his. After their father died, appellee illegitimate children were administratively denied surviving children's benefits on the ground that they failed to show dependency by proof that their father lived with them or was contributing to their support at the time of his death, or by any of the statutory presumptions of dependency. After this ruling was upheld on administrative appeal, appellees filed an action for review against appellant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, alleging that the denial of benefits violated the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because other children, including all legitimate children, are statutorily entitled, as appellee children are not, to survivors' benefits regardless of actual dependency. The District Court held that the statutory classifications were constitutionally impermissible, reversing the administrative decision and ordering that benefits be paid to the children.

Held:

1. The judicial scrutiny traditionally devoted to cases involving

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discrimination along lines of race or national origin is not required because legislation treats legitimate and illegitimate offspring differently. Pp. 503-506.

[96 S.Ct. 2758] 2. The challenged statutory classifications are permissible because they are reasonably related to the likelihood of dependency at death, and in failing to extend any presumption of dependency to appellee children and others like them, the Act does not impermissibly discriminate against them as compared with legitimate children or those illegitimate children who are statutorily deemed dependent. Pp. 507-516.

(a) While Congress was unwilling to assume that every child of a deceased insured was dependent at the time of death, by presuming dependency on the basis of relatively readily documented facts, such as legitimate birth, or a support order or paternity decree, which could be relied upon to indicate the likelihood of continued actual dependency, Congress was able to avoid the burden and expense of specific case-by-case determination in the large number of cases where dependency is objectively probable. Such presumptions in aid of administrative functions, though they may approximate, rather than precisely mirror, the results that case-by-case adjudication would show, are permissible under the Fifth Amendment, so long as that lack of precise equivalence does not exceed the bounds of substantiality tolerated by the applicable level of scrutiny. Pp. 509-510.

(b) The challenged classifications are justified as reasonable empirical judgments that are consistent with a design to qualify entitlement to benefits upon a child's dependency at the time of the parent's death. Gomez v. Perez, 409 U.S. 535; New Jersey Welfare Rights Org. v. Cahill, 411 U.S. 619; Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 406 U.S. 164; Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68; Jimenez v. Weinberger, 417 U.S. 628; Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, distinguished. Pp. 510-516.

390 F.Supp. 1310, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 516.

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BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the issue of the constitutionality, under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, of those provisions of the Social Security Act that condition the eligibility of certain illegitimate children for a surviving child's insurance benefits upon a showing that the deceased wage earner was the claimant child's parent and, at the time of his death was living with the child or was contributing to his support.

I

Robert Cuffee, now deceased, lived with Belmira Lucas during the years 1948 through 1966, but they were never married. Two children were born to them during these years: Ruby M. Lucas, in 1953, and Darin E. Lucas, in 1960. In 1966, Cuffee and Lucas separated. Cuffee died in Providence, R.I., his home, in 1968. He died without ever having acknowledged in writing his paternity of either Ruby or Darin, and it was never determined in any judicial proceeding during his lifetime that he was the father of either child. After Cuffee's death, Mrs. Lucas filed an application on behalf of Ruby and Darin for surviving children's benefits under § 202(d)(1) of the Social Security Act, 70 Stat. 807, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1) (1970 ed. and Supp. IV), based upon Cuffee's earnings record.

II

In operative terms, the Act provides that an unmarried son or daughter of an individual, who died fully or currently insured under the Act, may apply for and be

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entitled to a survivor's benefit, if the applicant is under 18 years of age at the time of application (or is a full-time student and under 22 years of age) and was dependent, within the meaning of the statute, at the [96 S.Ct. 2759] time of the parent's death.1 A child is considered dependent for this purpose if the insured father was living with or contributing to the child's support at the time of death. Certain children, however, are relieved of the burden of such individualized proof of dependency. Unless the child has been adopted by some other individual, a child

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who is legitimate, or a child who would be entitled to inherit personal property from the insured parent's estate under the applicable state intestacy law is considered to have been dependent at the time of the parent's death.2 Even lacking this relationship under state law, a child, unless adopted by some other individual, is entitled to a presumption of dependency if the decedent, before death, (a) had gone through a marriage ceremony with the other parent, resulting in a purported marriage between them which, but for a nonobvious legal defect, would have been valid, or (b) in writing had acknowledged the child to be his, or (c) had been decreed by a court to be the child's father, or (d) had been ordered by a court to support the child because the child was his.3

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Examiner of the Social Security Administration, after hearings, determined that, while Cuffee's paternity was established, the children had failed to demonstrate their dependency by proof that Cuffee either lived with them or was contributing to their support at the time

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of his death, or by any of the statutory presumptions of dependency, and thus that they were not entitled to survivorship benefits under the Act. The Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration affirmed these rulings, and they became the final decision of the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. Lucas then timely filed this action, pursuant to § 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island on behalf of the two children (hereinafter sometimes called the appellees) for review of the Secretary's decision.

The District Court ultimately affirmed each of the factual findings of the administrative agency: that Robert Cuffee was the children's father; that he never acknowledged his paternity in writing; that his paternity or support obligations had not been the subject of a judicial proceeding during his lifetime; that no common law marriage had ever been contracted between Cuffee and Lucas, so that the children could not inherit Cuffee's personal property under the intestacy law of Rhode Island; and that, at the time of his death, he was neither living with the children nor contributing to their support. 390 F.Supp. 1310, 1312-1314 (1975). None of these factual matters is at issue here.4

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A motion for summary judgment, filed by the appellees, relied on Jimenez v. Weinberger, 417 U.S. 628 (1974). It was urged that denial of benefits in this case, where paternity was clear, violated the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause, as that provision comprehends the principle of equal protection of the laws,5 because other children, including all legitimate children, are statutorily entitled, as the Lucas children are not, to survivorship benefits regardless of actual dependency. Addressing this issue, the District Court ruled that the statutory classifications were constitutionally impermissible.6 390 F.Supp. at 1314-1321. Recognizing that the web of statutory provisions regarding presumptive [96 S.Ct. 2761] dependency was overinclusive because it entitled some children, who were not actually dependent, to survivorship benefits under the Act --...

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