Clark v. Jeter

PETITIONER: Clark
RESPONDENT: Jeter
LOCATION: Pima County Jail

DOCKET NO.: 87-5565
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 486 US 456 (1988)
ARGUED: Apr 19, 1988
DECIDED: Jun 06, 1988

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.

Question

Did the Pennsylvania law violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Clark v. Jeter

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 19, 1988 in Clark v. Jeter

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 06, 1988 in Clark v. Jeter

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 87-5565, Clark against Jeter, will be announced by Justice O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This case comes to us by writ of certiorari to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

The petitioner is the mother of an illegitimate child.

She sued the respondent for child support alleging that he is the child's father.

The Court dismissed the suit as barred by Pennsylvania six-year statute of limitations for paternity actions.

The statute effectively limits the time within which suits may be brought to obtain child support for illegitimate children.

By contrast, suits for child support for legitimate children may be brought at any time during their minority.

We hold in the opinion filed today that the Pennsylvania statute of limitations at issue violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The statute discriminates between legitimate and illegitimate children and is not substantially related to an important government objective.

Accordingly, we reverse the judgment below and the opinion is unanimous.