Department of Mental Hygiene of California v. Kirchner

PETITIONER: Department of Mental Hygiene of California
LOCATION: Criminal District Court, Parish of New Orleans

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 380 US 194 (1965)
ARGUED: Jan 19, 1965
DECIDED: Mar 08, 1965

Facts of the case


Media for Department of Mental Hygiene of California v. Kirchner

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 19, 1965 in Department of Mental Hygiene of California v. Kirchner

Earl Warren:

Petitioner, versus Evelyn Kirchner, Administratrix of the Estate of Ellinor Green Vance.

Mrs. Palmer.

Elizabeth Palmer:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Certiorari was granted in this case to review a decision of the California Supreme Court which held that since mental hospitals serve a proper public function that it is a denial of the Equal Protection Clause for a state to require a patient's close family members to reimburse in any part for the cause of the patient's care at the state hospital.

The California statute imposed a joint and several liability upon the patient's estate, the spouse, parents, and children.

Pursuant to this statute, the Department of Mental Hygiene filed a claim in the estate of a deceased daughter for the care of her mother at Agnews State Hospital.

The respondent -- the Administratrix of the estate rejected this claim and this action was brought.

The respondent's contention throughout the proceeding was that the mother's estate must be completely exhausted before any liability would pass to the patient's estate.

Both parties moot for judgment on the pleadings and judgment was granted to the Department of Mental Hygiene.

Now -- although, it is irrelevant under a joint and several obligations, and solely to refute the implication that the Department of Mental Hygiene did act in an arbitrary fashion and proceeding against the estate of the deceased daughter.

I want to make it clear that the mother's estate although of some $11,000 was not available for her support.

It was subject to a lien by the Department of Mental Hygiene as we have set forth quite clearly in our brief.

Now, we'd like to point out that amicus curiae, the American Federation for the Blind, who has failed the brief and behalf of respondents agrees with our contention that this was an impoverished person.

The District Court of Appeal confirmed the decision of the Superior Court, the Supreme Court of California reversed with its precedent shattering decision.

So the issue framed -- the issue before this Court was sold frames -- was framed completely by the court below and not by the parties as to whether it is a denial of the Equal Protection Clause for a state to require reimbursement from financially closed -- from close relatives who are financially able to do so.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

I was reading (Inaudible)?

Elizabeth Palmer:

Yes, Your Honor.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

(Inaudible) claim the issue -- how do they claim it?

A State Constitutional question, is that?

Elizabeth Palmer:

No, Your Honor.

It was not raised you see by any other parties.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

You said that's the Supreme Court opinion explaining this?

Elizabeth Palmer:

That's right.

It has.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, now -- that's what I have -- (Inaudible) state's constitution or the Federal Constitution?

Elizabeth Palmer:


I would say that -- and it is our contention that it's solely on the Federal Constitution.

Mr. Justice Sharr (ph) in his opinion says, “It is a denial of the Equal Protection Clause in two places makes no reference to the California privileges and immunities or the general uniform operation of the law.”

Furthermore, the California --

Tom C. Clark:

Don't you have equal protection in those words?