Mills v. Habluetzel, No. 80-6298

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtREHNQUIST
Citation456 U.S. 91,102 S.Ct. 1549,71 L.Ed.2d 770
Docket NumberNo. 80-6298
Decision Date05 April 1982
PartiesLois Mae MILLS, Appellant, v. Dan HABLUETZEL

456 U.S. 91
102 S.Ct. 1549
71 L.Ed.2d 770
Lois Mae MILLS, Appellant,

v.

Dan HABLUETZEL.

No. 80-6298.
Argued Jan. 12, 1982.
Decided April 5, 1982.
Syllabus

A Texas statute (§ 13.01) provides that a paternity suit to identify the natural father of an illegitimate child for purposes of obtaining support must be brought before the child is one year old, or the suit is barred. Appellant mother of an illegitimate child and the Texas Department of Human Resources brought suit in a Texas court on behalf of the child to establish that appellee was his natural father. The trial court dismissed the suit under § 13.01 because the child was one year and seven months old when the suit was filed. The Texas Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, holding that the one-year limitation was not tolled during minority and did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Held: The one-year period for establishing paternity denies illegitimate children in Texas the equal protection of law. Pp. 97-101.

(a) A State that grants an opportunity for legitimate children to obtain paternal support must also grant that opportunity to illegitimate children, Gomez v. Perez, 409 U.S. 535, 93 S.Ct. 872, 35 L.Ed.2d 56, and this latter opportunity must be more than illusory, although it need not be coterminous with the procedures accorded legitimate children. Pp. 97-98.

(b) The period for obtaining support granted by Texas to illegitimate children must be of sufficient duration to present a reasonable opportunity for those with an interest in such children to assert claims on their behalf. And the time limitation on that opportunity must be substantially related to the State's interest in avoiding the litigation of stale or fraudulent claims. Section 13.01 fails to meet either of these requirements and thus denies equal protection. Pp. 98-101.

Reversed and remanded.

Michael S. Mankins, Corpus Christi, Tex., for appellant.

Page 92

Lola L. Bonner, Rockport, Tex., for appellee.

Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This Court has held that once a State posits a judicially enforceable right of children to support from their natural fathers, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the State from denying that same right to illegitimate children. Gomez v. Perez, 409 U.S. 535, 93 S.Ct. 872, 35 L.Ed.2d 56 (1973). In this case we are required to determine the extent to which the right of illegitimate children recognized in Gomez may be circumscribed by a State's interest in avoiding the prosecution of stale or fraudulent claims. The Texas Court of Civil Appeals, Thirteenth Supreme Judicial District, upheld against federal constitutional challenges the State's one-year statute of limitation for suits to identify the natural fathers of illegitimate children. We noted probable jurisdiction. 451 U.S. 936, 101 S.Ct. 2014, 68 L.Ed.2d 322. We begin by reviewing the history of the statute challenged by appellant.

I

Like all States, Texas imposes upon parents the primary responsibility for support of their legitimate children. See Tex.Fam.Code Ann. (Code) §§ 4.02, 12.04(3) (1975 and Supp.1982). That duty extends beyond the dissolution of marriage, Code § 14.05, regardless of whether the parent has custody of the child, Hooten v. Hooten, 15 S.W.2d 141 (Tex.Civ.App.1929), and may be enforced on the child's behalf in civil proceedings. Code § 14.05(a). Prior to our decision in Gomez, Texas recognized no enforceable duty on the part of a natural father to support his illegitimate children. See Home of the Holy Infancy v. Kaska, 397 S.W.2d 208 (Tex.1965); Lane v. Phillips, 69 Tex. 240, 6 S.W. 610 (1887); Bjorgo v. Bjorgo, 391 S.W.2d 528 (Tex.Civ.App.1965). A natural father could even assert illegitimacy as a defense to

Page 93

prosecution for criminal nonsupport. See Curtin v. State, 155 Tex.Cr.R. 625, 238 S.W.2d 187 (1950).

Reviewing the Texas law in Gomez, we held that "a State may not invidiously discriminate against illegitimate children by denying them substantial benefits accorded children generally." 409 U.S., at 538, 93 S.Ct., at 875. "[O]nce a State posits a judicially enforceable right on behalf of children to needed support from their natural fathers," we stated, "there is no constitutionally sufficient justification for denying such an essential right to a child simply because its natural father has not married its mother." Ibid. Although we recognized that "the lurking problems with respect to proof of paternity . . . are not to be lightly brushed aside," we concluded that they did not justify "an impenetrable barrier that works to shield otherwise invidious discrimination." Ibid. Accordingly, we held Texas' denial of support rights to illegitimate children to be a denial of equal protection of law.

In response to our decision in Gomez, the Texas Legislature considered Legislation that would have provided illegitimate children with a cause of action to establish the paternity of their natural fathers and would have imposed upon those fathers the same duty of support owed to legitimate children. The legislature did not enact that legislation, however, choosing instead to establish a procedure by which natural fathers voluntarily could legitimate their illegitimate children and thereby take upon themselves the obligation of supporting those children. Texas Dept. of Human Resources v. Hernandez, 595 S.W.2d 189, 191 (Tex.Civ.App.1980). No provision was made for illegitimate children to seek support from fathers who fail to support them.

Not surprisingly, this legislation was found by Texas courts to be an inadequate response to Gomez. A panel of the Texas Court of Civil Appeals held that, because of Gomez, "[w]hen the Legislature later provided judicial relief against the father on behalf of a legitimate child for support, it neces-

Page 94

sarily provided the same relief on behalf of an illegitimate child." In re R____ V____ M____, 530 S.W.2d 921, 922-923 (Tex.Civ.App.1975). Only after this judicial recognition of a right to support did the Texas Legislature establish procedures for a paternity and support action on behalf of illegitimate children. Texas Dept. of Human Resources v. Hernandez, supra, at 191.

The rights of illegitimate children to obtain support from their biological fathers are now governed by Chapter 13 of Title 2 of the Code § 13.01 et seq. The Code recognizes that establishment of paternity is the necessary first step in all suits by illegitimate children for support from their natural fathers. See In re Miller, 605 S.W.2d 332, 334 (Tex.Civ.App.1980); Texas Dept. of Human Resources v. Delley, 581 S.W.2d 519, 522 (Tex.Civ.App.1979). Accordingly, Chapter 13 establishes procedures to be followed in judicial determinations of paternity and works in conjunction with other provisions of the Code to establish the duty of fathers to support their illegitimate children. See Code §§ 12.04, 14.05. Once paternity has been determined, Chapter 13 authorizes the court to order the defendant father "to make periodic payments or a lump-sum payment, or both, for the support of the child until he is 18 years of age," Code § 14.05(a). See Code § 13.42(b).

Although it granted illegitimate children the opportunity to obtain support by establishing paternity, Texas was less than generous. It significantly truncated that opportunity by the statutory provision at issue in this case, § 13.01:

"A suit to establish the parent-child relationship between a child who is not the legitimate child of a man and the child's natural father by proof of paternity must be brought before the child is one year old, or the suit is barred."

Texas views this provision as part of the substantive right accorded illegitimate children, not simply as a procedural limi-

Page 95

tation on that right. Texas Dept. of Human Resources v. Hernandez, supra, at 192-193. Moreover, Texas courts have applied § 13.01 literally to mean that failure to bring suit on behalf of illegitimate children within the first year of their life "results in [their] being forever barred from the right to sue their natural father for child support, a limitation their legitimate counterparts do not share." In re Miller, supra, at 334. Thus, in response to the constitutional requirements of Gomez, Texas has created a one-year window in its previously "impenetrable barrier," through which an illegitimate child may establish paternity and obtain paternal support.1

II

Appellant in this case is the mother of a child born out of wedlock in early 1977. In October 1978, she and the Texas Department of Human Resources, to which appellant had as-

Page 96

signed the child's support rights,2 brought suit on behalf of the child to establish that appellee was his natural father. Appellee answered by asserting that the action was barred by § 13.01 because the child was one year and seven months old when the suit was filed. The trial court agreed with appellee and dismissed the suit.

The dismissal was affirmed on appeal by the Texas Court of Civil Appeals, and discretionary review was denied by the Texas Supreme Court upon a finding of no reversible error.3 The Court of Civil Appeals, relying upon its decision in Texas Dept. of Human Resources v. Hernandez, 595 S.W.2d 189 (1930), held that the one-year limitation was not tolled during minority and did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Hernandez decision in turn relied upon the constitutional analysis in Texas Dept. of Human Resources v. Chapman, 570 S.W.2d 46 (Tex.Civ.App.1978), where another division of the Court of Civil Appeals had found that "the legitimate state interest in precluding the litigation of stale or fraudulent claims" was rationally related to the one-year bar and therefore did not deny illegitimate children equal protection of the law. Id., at 49.

Appellant argues that the § 13.01 bar imposes a burden on...

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273 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
    ...Jeter , 486 U.S. at 461, 108 S.Ct. 1910 ; Pickett v. Brown , 462 U.S. 1, 8, 103 S.Ct. 2199, 76 L.Ed.2d 372 (1983) ; Mills v. Habluetzel , 456 U.S. 91, 98–101, 102 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.......
  • Mitchell v. Apfel, No. 3:97CV330-P.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Western District of North Carolina
    • August 6, 1998
    ...University for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718, 723-724, and n. 9, 102 S.Ct. 3331, 73 L.Ed.2d 1090 (1982) (gender); Mills v. Habluetzel, 456 U.S. 91, 101, and n. 8, 102 S.Ct. 1549, 71 L.Ed.2d 770 (1982) (illegitimacy); Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 197, 97 S.Ct. 451, 50 L.Ed.2d 397 (1976) Furt......
  • Estate v. Britel, G049161
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 23, 2015
    ...likely intent and in doing so efficiently. Jackie relies on Clark, supra, 486 U.S. at 461, 108 S.Ct. 1910 and Mills v. Habluetzel (1982) 456 U.S. 91, 102 S.Ct. 1549, 71 L.Ed.2d 770, both of which involved statutes of limitation for paternity actions, not intestate succession statutes. The s......
  • Inturri v. City of Hartford, Conn., No. Civ.A. 3:03CV987CFD.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • March 30, 2005
    ...as "quasi-suspect" are gender and illegitimacy. Ramos v. Town of Vernon, 353 F.3d 171, 175 (2d Cir.2003); see, e.g., Mills v. Habluetzel, 456 U.S. 91, 98-99, 102 S.Ct. 1549, 71 L.Ed.2d 770 (1982) (applying intermediate scrutiny to an equal protection challenge involving illegitimate childre......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
272 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
    ...Jeter , 486 U.S. at 461, 108 S.Ct. 1910 ; Pickett v. Brown , 462 U.S. 1, 8, 103 S.Ct. 2199, 76 L.Ed.2d 372 (1983) ; Mills v. Habluetzel , 456 U.S. 91, 98–101, 102 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.......
  • Mitchell v. Apfel, No. 3:97CV330-P.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Western District of North Carolina
    • August 6, 1998
    ...University for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718, 723-724, and n. 9, 102 S.Ct. 3331, 73 L.Ed.2d 1090 (1982) (gender); Mills v. Habluetzel, 456 U.S. 91, 101, and n. 8, 102 S.Ct. 1549, 71 L.Ed.2d 770 (1982) (illegitimacy); Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 197, 97 S.Ct. 451, 50 L.Ed.2d 397 (1976) Furt......
  • Estate v. Britel, G049161
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 23, 2015
    ...likely intent and in doing so efficiently. Jackie relies on Clark, supra, 486 U.S. at 461, 108 S.Ct. 1910 and Mills v. Habluetzel (1982) 456 U.S. 91, 102 S.Ct. 1549, 71 L.Ed.2d 770, both of which involved statutes of limitation for paternity actions, not intestate succession statutes. The s......
  • Inturri v. City of Hartford, Conn., No. Civ.A. 3:03CV987CFD.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • March 30, 2005
    ...as "quasi-suspect" are gender and illegitimacy. Ramos v. Town of Vernon, 353 F.3d 171, 175 (2d Cir.2003); see, e.g., Mills v. Habluetzel, 456 U.S. 91, 98-99, 102 S.Ct. 1549, 71 L.Ed.2d 770 (1982) (applying intermediate scrutiny to an equal protection challenge involving illegitimate childre......
  • 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
    ...of illegitimacy-related social stigma and legal penalties). (249.) 429 U.S. 190(1976). (250.) Clark, 486 U.S. at 462-63. (251.) 456 U.S. 91 (252.) Id. at 98-100. (253.) This impulse may be exacerbated by the racial and gender composition of the cadre of constitutional law professors across ......

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