Lalli v. Lalli, No. 77-1115

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPOWELL
Citation439 U.S. 259,58 L.Ed.2d 503,99 S.Ct. 518
Docket NumberNo. 77-1115
Decision Date11 December 1978
PartiesRobert M. LALLI, Appellant, v. Rosamond LALLI, Administratrix of the Estate of Mario Lalli, et al

439 U.S. 259
99 S.Ct. 518
58 L.Ed.2d 503
Robert M. LALLI, Appellant,

v.

Rosamond LALLI, Administratrix of the Estate of Mario Lalli, et al.

No. 77-1115.
Argued Oct. 4, 1978.
Decided Dec. 11, 1978.
Syllabus

Appellant, assertedly the illegitimate son of Mario Lalli, who died intestate in New York, filed a petition for a compulsory accounting from appellee administratrix of the estate, claiming that he was entitled to inherit from Mario as his child. Appellee opposed the petition, arguing that even if appellant were Mario's child, he was not a lawful distributee of the estate because he had failed to comply with a New York statutory provision (§ 4-1.2) that in pertinent part allows an illegitimate child to inherit from his intestate father only if a court of competent jurisdiction has, during the father's lifetime, entered an order declaring paternity. Appellant contended that his failure to obtain such an order during Mario's lifetime could not bar his inheritance because § 4-1.2 discriminated against him on the basis of his illegitimate birth in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Appellant tendered evidence that he was Mario's child. The Surrogate's Court ruled that appellant was properly excluded as a distributee under § 4-1.2. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed and upheld the constitutionality of the statute. Held: The judgment is affirmed. Pp. 264-276; 276; 276-277.

43 N.Y.2d 65, 400 N.Y.S.2d 761, 371 N.E.2d 481, affirmed.

Mr. Justice POWELL, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Justice STEWART, concluded that § 4-1.2 does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Trimble v. Gordon, 430 U.S. 762, 97 S.Ct. 1459, 52 L.Ed.2d 31, distinguished. Pp. 264-276.

(a) While classifications based on illegitimacy are not subject to "strict scrutiny," they are invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment if they are not substantially related to permissible state interests, Mathews v. Lucas, 427 U.S. 495, 506, 96 S.Ct. 2755, 2762, 49 L.Ed.2d 651; Trimble v. Gordon, supra, 430 U.S. at 767, 97 S.Ct. at 1464. P. 265.

(b) The Illinois statute invalidated in Trimble (which, in addition to requiring the father's acknowledgment of paternity, required the legitimation of the child through intermarriage of the parents as a precondition to inheritance) eliminated "the possibility of a middle ground between the extremes of complete exclusion [of illegitimates claiming under their fathers' estates] and case-by-case determination of paternity." But the single requirement at issue under § 4-1.2 is an evidentiary one; the marital status of the parents is irrelevant. Pp. 266-267.

(c) The primary goal underlying the challenged aspects of § 4-1.2 is

Page 260

to provide for the just and orderly disposition of a decedent's property where paternal inheritance by illegitimate children is concerned, an area involving unique and difficult problems of proof. Pp. 268-271.

(d) Section 4-1.2 represents a carefully considered legislative judgment on how best to "grant to illegitimates in so far as practicable rights of inheritance on a par with those enjoyed by legitimate children," while protecting the important state interest in the just and orderly disposition of decedents' estates. Accuracy is enhanced by placing paternity disputes in a judicial forum during the lifetime of the father, which (in addition to permitting a man to defend his reputation against unjust paternity claims) helps to forestall fraudulent assertions of paternity. Estate administration is facilitated, and delay and uncertainty minimized, where the entitlement of an illegitimate child is a matter of judicial record before administration commences. While there may be some instances where § 4-1.2, as is often the case with statutory classifications, will produce inequitable results, the reach of the statute, unlike that involved in Trimble, does not exceed justifiable state objectives. Pp. 271-274.

Mr. Justice BLACKMUN would affirm the judgment below on the basis of Labine v. Vincent, 401 U.S. 532, 91 S.Ct. 1017, 28 L.Ed.2d 288, and rather than distinguishing Trimble, supra, would overrule that decision. Pp. 276-277.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST concurred in the judgment for the reasons stated in his dissent in Trimble, supra, 430 U.S., at 777, 97 S.Ct., at 1468. P. 276.

Leonard M. Henkin, Mount Vernon, N.Y., for appellant.

Irwin M. Strum, New York City, for appellee.

Page 261

Mr. Justice POWELL announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Justice STEWART join.

This case presents a challenge to the constitutionality of § 4-1.2 of New York's Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law,1 which requires illegitimate children who would inherit from their fathers by intestate succession to provide a particular form of proof of paternity. Legitimate children are not subject to the same requirement.

I

Appellant Robert Lalli claims to be the illegitimate son of Mario Lalli who died intestate on January 7, 1973, in the State of New York. Appellant's mother, who died in 1968, never was married to Mario. After Mario's widow, Rosamond Lalli, was appointed administratrix of her husband's estate, appellant petitioned the Surrogate's Court for Westchester County for a compulsory accounting, claiming that he and his sister Maureen Lalli were entitled to inherit from Mario as his children. Rosamond Lalli opposed the petition. She argued that even if Robert and Maureen were Mario's children, they were not lawful distributees of the state because they had failed to comply with § 4-1.2,2 which provides in part:

"An illegitimate child is the legitimate child of his

Page 262

father so that he and his issue inherit from his father if a court of competent jurisdiction has, during the lifetime of the father, made an order of filiation declaring paternity in a proceeding instituted during the pregnancy of the mother or within two years from the birth of the child."

Appellant conceded that he had not obtained an order of filiation during his putative father's lifetime. He contended, however, that § 4-1.2, by imposing this requirement, discriminated against him on the basis of his illegitimate birth in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.3 Appellant tendered certain evidence of his relationship with Mario Lalli, including a notarized document

Page 263

in which Lalli, in consenting to appellant's marriage, referred to him as "my son," and several affidavits by persons who stated that Lalli had acknowledged openly and often that Robert and Maureen were his children.

The Surrogate's Court noted that § 4-1.2 had previously, and unsuccessfully, been attacked under the Equal Protection Clause. After reviewing recent decisions of this Court concerning discrimination against illegitimate children, particularly Labine v. Vincent, 401 U.S. 532, 91 S.Ct. 1017, 28 L.Ed.2d 288 (1971), and three New York decisions affirming the constitutionality of the statute, In re Belton, 70 Misc.2d 814, 335 N.Y.S.2d 177 (Surr.Ct.1972); In re Hendrix, 68 Misc.2d 439, 444, 326 N.Y.S.2d 646, 652 (Surr.Ct.1971); In re Crawford, 64 Misc.2d 758, 762-763, 315 N.Y.S.2d 890, 895 (Surr.Ct.1970), the court ruled that appellant was properly excluded as a distributee of Lalli's estate and therefore lacked status to petition for a compulsory accounting.

On direct appeal the New York Court of Appeals affirmed. In re Lalli, 38 N.Y.2d 77, 378 N.Y.S.2d 351, 340 N.E.2d 721 (1975). It understood Labine to require the State to show no more than that "there is a rational basis for the means chosen by the Legislature for the accomplishment of a permissible State objective." 38 N.Y.2d, at 81, 378 N.Y.S.2d, at 354, 340 N.E.2d, at 723. After discussing the problems of proof peculiar to establishing paternity, as opposed to maternity, the court concluded that the State was constitutionally entitled to require a judicial decree during the father's lifetime as the exclusive form of proof of paternity.

Appellant appealed the Court of Appeals' decision to this Court. While that case was pending here, we decided Trimble v. Gordon, 430 U.S. 762, 97 S.Ct. 1459, 52 L.Ed.2d 31 (1977). Because the issues in these two cases were similar in some respects, we vacated and remanded to permit further consideration in light of Trimble. Lalli v. Lalli, 431 U.S. 911, 97 S.Ct. 2164, 53 L.Ed.2d 220 (1977).

Page 264

On remand,4 the New York Court of Appeals, with two judges dissenting, adhered to its former disposition. In re Lalli, 43 N.Y.2d 65, 400 N.Y.S.2d 761, 371 N.E.2d 481 (1977). It acknowledged that Trimble contemplated a standard of judicial review demanding more than "a mere finding of some remote rational relationship between the statute and a legitimate State purpose," 43 N.Y.2d, at 67, 400 N.Y.S.2d, at 762, 371 N.E.2d, at 482, though less than strictest scrutiny. Finding § 4-1.2 to be "significantly and determinatively different" from the statute overturned in Trimble, the court ruled that the New York law was sufficiently related to the State's interest in " 'the orderly settlement of estates and the dependability of titles to property passing under intestacy laws,' " 43 N.Y.2d, at 67, 69-70, 400 N.Y.S.2d, at 763-764, 371 N.E.2d, at 482-483, quoting Trimble, supra, 430 U.S., at 771, 97 S.Ct., at 1465, to meet the requirements of equal protection.

Appellant again sought review here, and we noted probable jurisdiction. 435 U.S. 921, 98 S.Ct. 1482, 55 L.Ed.2d 514 (1978). We now affirm.

II

We begin our analysis with Trimble. At issue in that case was the constitutionality of an Illinois statute providing that a child born out of wedlock could inherit from his intestate father only if the father had "acknowledged" the child and the child had been legitimated by the intermarriage of the parents. The appellant in Trimble was a child born out of wedlock whose father had neither...

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327 practice notes
  • United States v. Mayea-Pulido, Nos. 18-50223
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • January 3, 2020
    ...S.Ct. 1549, 71 L.Ed.2d 770 (1982) ; United States v. Clark , 445 U.S. 23, 26–27, 100 S.Ct. 895, 63 L.Ed.2d 171 (1980) ; Lalli v. Lalli , 439 U.S. 259, 265, 99 S.Ct. 518, 58 L.Ed.2d 503 (1978) (plurality opinion); Trimble v. Gordon , 430 U.S. 762, 767, 97 S.Ct. 1459, 52 L.Ed.2d 31 (1977) ; W......
  • Benham v. Edwards, No. 80-9052
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 27, 1982
    ...684 (1982); Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 517-19, 100 S.Ct. 2758, 2794, 65 L.Ed.2d 902 (Marshall, J., concurring); Lalli v. Lalli, 439 U.S. 259, 265, 99 S.Ct. 518, 523, 58 L.Ed.2d 503 (1978); University of California Regents v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 356-62 & n.30, 98 S.Ct. 2733, 2781......
  • Slevin v. City of New York, No. 79 Civ. 4524 (ADS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • December 15, 1982
    ...___ & n. 16, 102 S.Ct. 2382, 2395 & n. 16, 72 L.Ed.2d 786 (1982) (education restrictions based on illegal alien status); Lalli v. Lalli, 439 U.S. 259, 275-76, 99 S.Ct. 518, 528, 58 L.Ed.2d 503 (1978) (classifications based on alienage); Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 197, 97 S.Ct. 451, 456, ......
  • Estate v. Britel, G049161
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 23, 2015
    ...the putative child's existence—no timely notice of the probate proceedings would be given to the potential heir. ( Lalli v. Lalli (1978) 439 U.S. 259, 270, 99 S.Ct. 518, 58 L.Ed.2d 503 ( Lalli ).) This could cause disruptions in the probate proceedings, such as delaying inheritance and fina......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
326 cases
  • United States v. Mayea-Pulido, Nos. 18-50223
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • January 3, 2020
    ...S.Ct. 1549, 71 L.Ed.2d 770 (1982) ; United States v. Clark , 445 U.S. 23, 26–27, 100 S.Ct. 895, 63 L.Ed.2d 171 (1980) ; Lalli v. Lalli , 439 U.S. 259, 265, 99 S.Ct. 518, 58 L.Ed.2d 503 (1978) (plurality opinion); Trimble v. Gordon , 430 U.S. 762, 767, 97 S.Ct. 1459, 52 L.Ed.2d 31 (1977) ; W......
  • Benham v. Edwards, No. 80-9052
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 27, 1982
    ...684 (1982); Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 517-19, 100 S.Ct. 2758, 2794, 65 L.Ed.2d 902 (Marshall, J., concurring); Lalli v. Lalli, 439 U.S. 259, 265, 99 S.Ct. 518, 523, 58 L.Ed.2d 503 (1978); University of California Regents v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 356-62 & n.30, 98 S.Ct. 2733, 2781......
  • Slevin v. City of New York, No. 79 Civ. 4524 (ADS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • December 15, 1982
    ...___ & n. 16, 102 S.Ct. 2382, 2395 & n. 16, 72 L.Ed.2d 786 (1982) (education restrictions based on illegal alien status); Lalli v. Lalli, 439 U.S. 259, 275-76, 99 S.Ct. 518, 528, 58 L.Ed.2d 503 (1978) (classifications based on alienage); Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 197, 97 S.Ct. 451, 456, ......
  • Estate v. Britel, G049161
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 23, 2015
    ...the putative child's existence—no timely notice of the probate proceedings would be given to the potential heir. ( Lalli v. Lalli (1978) 439 U.S. 259, 270, 99 S.Ct. 518, 58 L.Ed.2d 503 ( Lalli ).) This could cause disruptions in the probate proceedings, such as delaying inheritance and fina......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • LEGITIMIZING ILLEGITIMACY IN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW.
    • United States
    • Washington University Law Review Vol. 99 Nbr. 6, August 2022
    • August 1, 2022
    ...support context). (35.) 401 U.S. 532 (1971). (36.) Id. at 539-40. (37.) Id. at 539. (38.) 427 U.S. 495 (1976). (39.) Id. at 508-09. (40.) 439 U.S. 259(1978). (41.) 430 U.S. (42.) Id. at 776. (43.) Lalli, 439 U.S. at 275-76. (44.) Clark v. Jeter, 486 U.S. 456, 461 (1988) (citations omitted).......

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