Lehr v. Robertson

PETITIONER: Jonathan Lehr
RESPONDENT: Lorrain Robertson, Richard N. Robinson
LOCATION: Family Court of Ulster County

DOCKET NO.: 81-1756
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: New York Court of Appeals

CITATION: 463 US 248 (1983)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1982
DECIDED: Jun 27, 1983

ADVOCATES:
David L. Freeman - on behalf of the Appellant
Jay L. Samoff - on behalf of the Appellees

Facts of the case

Jonathan Lehr, the biological father of Jessica M., filed a petition to vacate an order of adoption. He argued that Jessica was adopted by her mother’s husband in violation of the Constitution because Lehr was never notified of the proceedings. Under New York law, Lehr was not in any of the classes of people entitled to notification of adoption proceedings. Lehr never supported the child financially, had a significant relationship with the child, or entered his name into the state’s father registry. The Ulster County Family Court denied Lehr’s petition and the Appellate Division and New York Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question

Does New York law violate due process and equal protection within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment when a biological father who has no relationship with the child does not receive notice of adoption proceedings surrounding his child?

Media for Lehr v. Robertson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1982 in Lehr v. Robertson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 27, 1983 in Lehr v. Robertson

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Lehr against Robertson will be announced by Justice Stevenson -- Justice Stevens.

End of the term syndrome.

John Paul Stevens:

This case comes to us from the Court of Appeals of the State of New York.

It involves a constitutionality of the New York adoption statute and more particularly the validity of an adoption order entered pertaining to a child who was born out of wedlock and adopted at approximately age of two years.

The putative father of the child claims that the adoption is invalid and that the statute pursuant to which the adoption was ordered is itself invalid because it did not provide that he would receive notice and an opportunity to be heard before the adoption order was entered.

The New York adoption statute provides for notice to several categories of fathers, those whose names appear on the birth certificate, those who lived with the child and the mother, those who were married to the mother within six months of the birth and most relevant in this case, those who have had their names placed on what is known as the putative father registry which is a registry which the father need only send a postcard in to have his name on the registry and then in the event of an adoption of the child, he's automatically guaranteed notice.

The putative father in this case did none of these things and had established no meaningful relationship of any kind with the child during the two years -- the first two years of her life and was not -- had not lived with the mother during that period of time.

For reasons that we set out in greater detail in the opinion we hold that he was not -- had not formed the kind of relationship with the child that would entitle him to notice and therefore that the adoption order is valid and that the New York statutory procedure as applied in this case is valid.

Justice White has filed a dissenting opinion which is joined by Justice Marshall and Justice Blackmun.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Justice Stevens.