Re Estate of Horman

Date13 October 1970
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Federal Circuit
United States, California Court of Appeal, 4th District

(Tamura, Acting P.J.; Kaufman, A.J.; Kerrigan and Mosk JJ.)

In re Estate of Horman

States as international persons Composite States Unions of States Exclusive competence of Federal Government in foreign relations Whether infringed by state law discriminating against non-resident aliens The law of the United States

The individual in international law Aliens Plea of non-discrimination Probate law imposing stricter requirements on non-resident aliens Whether unconstitutional discrimination The law of the United States

States as international persons Sovereignty and independence Conduct of foreign relations Inheritance by non-resident aliens Probate law imposing stricter requirements on non-resident aliens Exclusive competence of the Federal Government in foreign relations The law of the United States

Summary: The facts:S. 1026 of the Californian Probate Code requires non-resident aliens claiming to be heirs of one who has died intestate to file an appearance and demand within five years of the death. By contrast, citizens and resident aliens are given five years from the date of the decree making distribution. John Horman died intestate in 1961. More than five years later, four Soviet nationals residing in the Soviet Union filed an appearance and demand claiming to be some of Horman's heirs. They argued, inter alia, that S. 1026 was unconstitutional as it amounted to discrimination on grounds of nationality and interfered with the exclusive Federal control of foreign relations.

Held:S. 1026 was not unconstitutional. If discriminated not on grounds of race or nationality but of residence and did so in pursuance of legitimate state objectives. There was no reason why it should interfere with the Federal Government's control of foreign relations.

The relevant parts of the judgment of the Court, delivered by Kaufman, A.J., commence on the following page.

Constitutionality of Probate Code, Section 1026

Claimants' contentions for unconstitutionality are numerous and somewhat interrelated. Perhaps the most difficult questions are posed by claimants' contention that the statutory scheme of which Probate Code, section 1026 is a part constitutes an invidious discrimination against nonresident aliens depriving them of equal protection of laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

It is well established that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to aliens within the territorial jurisdiction of a state. (Truax v. RaichUNKUNK, 239 U.S. 33, 39, 36 S.Ct. 7, 910, 60 L.Ed, 131, 134; Yick Wo v. HopkinsUNKUNK, 118 U.S. 356, 369, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 1070, 30 L.Ed. 220, 226; Purdy & Fitzpatrick v. State of CaliforniaINTL[2], 71 A.C. 587, 599, 79 Cal.Rptr. 77, 456 P.2d 645.) We have been cited to no case, however, applying the equal protection clause to a nonresident alien. Indeed, the equal protection clause applies by its language only to any person within its [the State's] jurisdiction, and there is some indication in the cases that it is inapplicable to nonresident aliens. (See Johnson v. Eisentrager,[3] 339 U.S. 763, 771, 70 S.Ct. 936, 940, 94 L.Ed. 1255, 1262; Cermeno-Cerna v. Farrell, D.C., 291 F.Supp. 521, 528; Moody v. Hagen (1917) 36 N. D. 471, 162 N.W. 704, 706707.) As has previously been noted, however, upon the death of the decedent, claimants succeeded to interests in the estate of the decedent subject to divestment (Estate of Sorensen, supra, 44 Cal.2d 306, 308, 281 P.2d 870; Estate of Romaris,[4]supra, 191 Cal. 740, 744, 218 P. 421; Estate of Pendergast, supra, 143 Cal. 135, 140, 76 P. 962; Estate of Laurence, supra, 84 Cal.App.2d 500, 505506, 191 P.2d 109), and it is urged that the ownership of such property interests in the State of California constitute claimants as persons within the jurisdiction. See 51 Georgetown L.Rev. 484, 485; see also 47 Iowa L.Rev. 105, 114115; and cf. 28 Univ. of Chicago L.Rev. 1, 510.)

Assuming, without deciding, the validity of the latter proposition, we are not persuaded that the statutory scheme constitutes an unconstitutional discrimination against nonresident aliens. The major contention is that by virtue of Probate Code, section 1026 and Code of Civil Procedure, section 1336 nonresident aliens must appear and demand within five years from the date of death, whereas, under Probate Code, section 1027 and Code of Civil Procedure, section 1441 all other persons may appear and demand within five years from the date of the decree making distribution. It is argued that there is no valid purpose for the State's imposing a shorter period for nonresident aliens than for other persons and that, even if such purpose can be divined, the imposition of the shorter period of nonresident aliens is irrational and contrary to logic and fairness in that, if anything, a nonresident alien, because of his remoteness, should be allowed a longer period in which to appear and demand.

There is no constitutional requirement of uniform treatment. (In re Ricky H.UNK, 2 Cal.3d 513, 522, 86 Cal.Rptr. 76, 468 P.2d 204; Whittaker v. Superior CourtUNK, 68 Cal.2d 357, 367, 66 Cal.Rptr. 710, 438 P.2d 358; Bilyeu v. State Employees' Retirement SystemUNK, 58 Cal.2d 618, 623, 25 Cal. Rptr. 562, 375 P.2d 442.) Legislative classification is permissible when made for a lawful state purpose and when the classification bears a rational relationship to that purpose. (McGowan v. State of MarylandUNK, 366 U.S. 420, 425426, 81 S.Ct. 1101, 11041105, 6 L.Ed.2d 393, 399; F. S. Royster Guano Co. v. VirginiaUNKUNK, 253 U.S. 412, 415, 40 S.Ct. 560, 561, 64 L.Ed. 989, 990; Whittaker v. Superior Court, supra, 68 Cal.2d 357, 66 Cal.Rptr. 710, 438 P.2d 358.) Wide discretion is vested in the Legislature in making the classification and every presumption is in favor of the validity of the statute; the decision of the Legislature as to what is a sufficient distinction to warrant the classification will not be overthrown by the courts unless it is palpably arbitrary [Citations.] A distinction in legislation is not arbitrary if any set of facts reasonably can be conceived that would sustain it. (Sacramento Municipal Utility Dist. v. Pacific G. & E. Co.UNK, 20 Cal.2d 684, 693, 128 P.2d 529, 535; Bilyeu v. State Employees' Retirement System, supra, 58 Cal.2d 618, 623, 25 Cal.Rptr. 562, 375 P.2d 442; McGowan v. State of Maryland, supra, 366 U.S. 420, 81 S.Ct. 1101, 6 L.Ed.2d 393; In re Ricky H., supra, 2 Cal.3d 513, 86 Cal.Rptr. 76, 468 P.2d 204.)

We recognize that a stricter standard is applied in testing legislation involving suspect classifications such as classifications based on race, nationality or alienage or involving fundamental interests such as the right to vote, the right of interstate movement and the right to seek employment. (Purdy & Fitzpatrick v. State of CaliforniaINTL,[5]supra, 71 A.C. 587, 600, 79 Cal.Rptr. 77, 456 P.2d 645 and authorities there cited.) However, the distinction in the statutory scheme in question is not, strictly speaking, based upon alienage. Resident aliens are treated the same as citizens. The point of distinction is residency as opposed to nonresidency. Nor is the distinction based on...

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