Lalli v. Lalli


DOCKET NO.: 77-1115
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: New York Court of Appeals

CITATION: 439 US 259 (1978)
ARGUED: Oct 04, 1978
DECIDED: Dec 11, 1978

Irwin M. Strum – for appellee
Leonard M. Henkin – for appellant
Suzanne McGrattan

Facts of the case


Media for Lalli v. Lalli

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 04, 1978 in Lalli v. Lalli

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 11, 1978 in Lalli v. Lalli

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment of the Court in Lalli against Lalli will be announced by Mr. Justice Powell.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

This case is here on appeal for the New York Court of Appeals.

Under a New York statute, illegitimate children may inherit from their intestate fathers only if they have obtained a judicial order of paternity during the father’s lifetime.

Appellant, who claims to be the illegitimate son of Mario Lalli was not permitted to participate in Lalli’s estate because he had not complied with the statute.

The New York Court of Appeals rejected appellant’s argument that the statute denied him equal protection of the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Our prior decisions have made clear that statutes creating classifications based on illegitimacy are invalid unless they are substantially related to important governmental interest.

We think the New York statute satisfies this test.

The states have an important interest in the just and orderly disposition of property upon death.

Determining paternity of children, born out of wedlock often creates vexing evidentiary problems in the administration of estates following a study by a special commission, New York has chosen to require a judicial form of proof recorded during the father’s lifetime.

A judicial decree assures reliable evidence of paternity reducing the possibility of fraud, error, and delay.

Nor is this an unduly burdensome method of establishing paternity.

We therefore hold that New York’s solution to this problem satisfies the requirement of the Equal Protection Clause.

The Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Stewart have joined my opinion.

The latter adding a concurring opinion.

Mr. Justice Blackmun in a separate opinion and Mr. Justice Rehnquist have concurred in the judgment.

Mr. Justice Brennan joined by Mr. Justice White, Mr. Justice Marshall, and Mr. Justice Stevens, has written a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Powell.