Mitchell v. Hardwick, 22937

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Citation297 S.C. 48,374 S.E.2d 681
Decision Date17 October 1988
Docket NumberNo. 22937,22937
PartiesJoseph MITCHELL, Appellant, v. Ophilia Eady HARDWICK and Sylvia Eady, Respondents. . Heard

R. Thayer Rivers, Jr., Ridgeland, for appellant.

Darrell Thomas Johnson and Cornelius J. Riley, Hardeeville, for respondents.

TOAL, Justice:

This case involves the right of an illegitimate child to inherit from his father.

Hue Eady died intestate on July 18, 1975. At the time of his death, Mr. Eady owned several parcels of land in Jasper County totalling approximately 130 acres. Surviving him as heirs at law were two adopted daughters. In August 1984, appellant, Joseph Mitchell, petitioned the lower court for the partition of the estate property on the grounds that he is the illegitimate son of Eady.

The evidence is undisputed that Mitchell is the son of Eady. Mitchell stated that he lived with Eady part of the time during junior high school and almost all of the time during high school. Eady's brother, aunt and cousin testified that Mitchell was the son of Eady. In addition, the evidence reveals that during his lifetime, Eady deeded some property to Mitchell. The deed recorded May 3, 1974, specifically states that the property is given "for and in consideration of the sum of Five ($5.00) Dollars, love and affection to me paid by my son, Joseph Mitchell...." Finally, the witnesses and the court noted the striking physical resemblance between Mitchell and Eady.

In Trimble v. Gordon, 430 U.S. 762, 97 S.Ct. 1459, 52 L.Ed.2d 31 (1977), the United States Supreme Court held that statutes which prohibit an illegitimate child from inheriting from his father's estate violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. In Wilson v. Jones, 281 S.C. 230, 314 S.E.2d 341 (1984), this court held that, pursuant to Trimble, the limitation in S.C.Code Ann. § 21-3-30 allowing illegitimate children to inherit only from their mothers' estates was violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We held that Trimble would be given prospective effect only and that only those illegitimate children whose fathers died after April 26, 1977, the date of the Trimble decision, may inherit from their father's estate. We reasoned that "retroactive application of Trimble would disrupt the orderly process of probate." 314 S.E.2d at 343. Therefore, pursuant to Wilson, the lower court held that Mitchell could not inherit from his father's estate because his father died prior to April 26, 1977.

The dispositive issue is whether the prospective only application enunciated in Wilson should be modified to allow limited retroactive application where certain factors are met. We find highly persuasive two recent decisions in West Virginia and Tennessee which specifically address this issue.

In Williamson v. Gane, 345 S.E.2d 318 (W.Va.1986), the Supreme Court of Appeals modified its former prospective only application and held that the Trimble decision would be given limited retroactive application:

"Where there has been no justifiable and detrimental reliance upon the law invalidated therein; where the subject property has not been transferred to an innocent purchaser for value; or where the estate administration is subject to further resolution."

Id. at 322.

After noting that the main argument against retroactivity is disruption of the probate process, the West Virginia court reasoned that "retroactivity may be extended ... in a way that justly and fairly reconciles the constitutional interests in equality recognized in the new rule of law with reliance and finality interests founded upon the former law." Id. at 320.

Similarly, in Marshall v. Marshall, 670 S.W.2d 213 (Tenn.1984), the ...

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8 cases
  • Pitzer v. UNION BANK OF CAL., 67701-8.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • September 14, 2000
    ...they may be meritorious and even though mistakes of law or fact may have occurred during the probate. Id.; see also Mitchell v. Hardwick, 297 S.C. 48, 374 S.E.2d 681, 683 (1988) (retroactively applying Trimble only if "estate administration is subject to further While the interest of finali......
  • KA'U AGRIBUSINESS v. Heirs of Ahulau, 24420.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • August 9, 2004
    ...Consequently, we consider the law of other jurisdictions that have addressed similar circumstances. See Mitchell v. Hardwick, 297 S.C. 48, 374 S.E.2d 681 (1988); Williamson v. Gane, 176 W.Va. 443, 345 S.E.2d 318 (1986); Marshall v. Marshall, 670 S.W.2d 213 3. Mitchell v. Hardwick While Trim......
  • Klein v. Estate of Klein, No. 54192-7-I (WA 11/21/2005), 54192-7-I
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • November 21, 2005
    ...may provide a valid justification barring valid claims against closed estates. Pitzer, 141 Wn.2d at 551 (citing Mitchell v. Hardwick, 297 S.C. 48, 374 S.E.2d 681, 683 However, where there is a showing of extrinsic fraud, or where the decree of distribution is void, the concept of `finality'......
  • Freeman v. Freeman, 2535
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 7, 1996 343. Four years later the court modified Wilson and allowed limited retroactive application of Trimble. See Mitchell v. Hardwick, 297 S.C. 48, 374 S.E.2d 681 (1988). InMitchell, the court allowed illegitimate children to inherit from their fathers' estates if the following three conditio......
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