Clark v. Jeter Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Petitioner challenged a Pennsylvania statute that required proof of paternity to receive support, and established a six year statute of limitations for paternity actions.

Facts of the case

A Pennsylvania law required illegitimate children to prove paternity before seeking support from their fathers. The statute of limitations on suits seeking to establish paternity was six years from the birth of the illegitimate child. However, the state allowed legitimate children to seek support from their parents at any time. Cherlyn Clark sought child support from Gene Jeter, whom she claimed was the father of her daughter, Tiffany. Blood tests indicated that there was a 99.3% probability that Jeter indeed was Tiffany’s father. A state court dismissed Clark’s suit because it was initiated after the statute of limitations had expired.


Is the Pennsylvania statute requiring an illegitimate child to establish paternity within six years of the child’s birth and disallowing support if paternity is not proven constitutional?


“The statute does not withstand the Equal Protection Clause under the required heightened scrutiny test.
Three levels of scrutiny are applied to Equal Protection classifications: rational basis review

  • heightened scrutiny
  • and strict scrutiny. Heightened scrutiny has generally been applied to discriminatory classifications based on sex or illegitimacy. To withstand intermediate scrutiny, the classification must be substantially related to an important governmental objective.”


    The Court applied intermediate scrutiny to determine whether there was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause . The Court determined that the period of time in which a child had to establish paternity had to be sufficiently long to present a reasonable opportunity to assert a claim. The Court concluded that Pennsylvania’s six year statute of limitations was unconstitutional because it was not sufficiently long enough.

    • Case Brief: 1988
    • Petitioner: Clark
    • Respondent: Jeter
    • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

    Citation: 486 US 456 (1988)
    Argued: Apr 19, 1988
    Decided: Jun 6, 1988