Lehman by Lehman v. Lycoming County Children's Services Agency

PETITIONER: Lehman by Lehman
RESPONDENT: Lycoming County Children's Services Agency
LOCATION: Tyler Independent School District

DOCKET NO.: 80-2177
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 458 US 502 (1982)
ARGUED: Mar 30, 1982
DECIDED: Jun 30, 1982

Charles F. Greevy, III - on behalf of the Respondent
Martin Guggenheim - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Lehman by Lehman v. Lycoming County Children's Services Agency

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 30, 1982 in Lehman by Lehman v. Lycoming County Children's Services Agency

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Lehman against Lycoming County.

Mr. Guggenheim, I think you may proceed when you're ready now.

Martin Guggenheim:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

The issue before the Court today is whether there is federal habeas corpus jurisdiction to challenge a termination of parental rights order where the challenge is based upon the claim that the state court lacked constitutional power to order the children into state custody because the statute under which it purported to act is federally unconstitutional.

A related question is whether the Petitioner, as the mother who gave birth to the children who are now wards of the state and nurtured them through their formative years, has standing to challenge on their behalf the allegedly unconstitutional order in this case.

The question is a little narrower, I thought: whether she can do it by way of habeas corpus in a federal court.

Is it not that narrow?

Martin Guggenheim:

Yes, related to the first question of whether there is federal habeas corpus jurisdiction, whether the Petitioner as the mother before the final order of the Pennsylvania courts has standing in the federal habeas action to bring this case on the children's behalf.

This case does not present any question respecting the scope of federal review in such a habeas corpus action or concerning the relitigation of facts or the best interests of the children.

The court below, the en banc Third Circuit, ruled in a split decision, two plurality decisions of that court, against Petitioner; four interlocking, interweaving, but we would submit mistaken bases for the conclusion that jurisdiction does not lie in this case.

The first is that the mother does not have legal capacity to bring the action on behalf of their children.

The second is that the children are not in custody within the meaning of the federal habeas corpus statute.

The other two grounds are policy grounds: the fear that according such jurisdiction would necessarily lead to including intra-family disputes, such as child custody disputes in the ordinary separation of a family divorce context; and the fourth, general federalism concerns and implications respecting the appropriate role of a federal court in determining constitutional norms in this area.

We submit that there clearly is jurisdiction in this case, that that jurisdiction derives from the literal language and the purpose and meaning of Sections 2241 and Section 2254 of Title 28.

The first issue for the court is whether the children are in custody within the meaning of the statute.

We submit that this Court has resolved that question numerous times in the past.

Historically, of course, it was the Act of 1867 which broadly expanded the scope of federal habeas jurisdiction to all persons in custody of the state in violation of the laws, treaties or Constitution of the United States.

In 1886 this Court in Wales against Whitney recognized that the term habeas, that the term custody, is a term that applies to a great variety of restraints for which it is used to get relief.

Confinement under civil and criminal process may be so relieved.

Indeed, wives restrained by husbands, children withheld from their proper parent or guardian, persons held under arbitrary custody by private individuals, may all become proper subjects of habeas corpus.

Now, of course the question respecting the definition and breadth of custody does not address solely or conclude finally whether or not federal habeas corpus lies.

But it clearly shows that the term "custody" in the statute is easily met by children in this case who are wards of the state.

What were you just reading from?

Martin Guggenheim:

I am reading from the Court's opinion in Wales against Whitney--

Is that in the brief?

Martin Guggenheim:

--at 114 U.S.--

That exact language is not in the brief, but the quote, the cite to Wales against Whitney is in the brief.

Mr. Guggenheim, what was the exact position of the children at the time the habeas corpus action was brought?

Were they in the physical custody of the state or were they in a foster home?

Martin Guggenheim: