Levy v. Louisiana

PETITIONER: Thelma Levy
RESPONDENT: Louisiana
LOCATION: Formerly Sam’s Stationery and Luncheonette

DOCKET NO.: 508
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: Louisiana Supreme Court

CITATION: 391 US 68 (1968)
ARGUED: Mar 27, 1968
DECIDED: May 20, 1968

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Levy v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 27, 1968 in Levy v. Louisiana

Earl Warren:

Number 508, Norman Dorsen versus William A. Porteous, III.

Mr. Dorsen.

Norman Dorsen:

Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Court.

This case concerns the rights of illegitimate children under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Specifically, the question is whether a state can deny children born to an unmarried woman the benefits of a statute permitting children generally to sue for the wrongful death of their mother.

The facts in the case are simple and uncontested.

The decedent, Mrs. Louise Levy was the mother of five infant children whose interests are at stake here.

The children lived with their mother and were dependent on her.

The defendants in the case in this Court are Dr. W.J. Wing of the Charity Hospital of New Orleans and an insurance company, the Interstate Fire & Casualty Company.

On March 12, 1964, Mrs. Levy went to the Charity Hospital feeling ill and having other symptoms.

She was assigned to Dr. Wing who purported to examine here but failed to take blood test and make other checks.

On March 19, Mrs. Levy returned and she was still feeling ill.

Dr. Wing admonished her for not taking the medicine that he had prescribed and he suggested that she see a psychiatrist and in fact, he made an appointment with her to see a psychiatrist.

On March 22nd, Mrs. Levy was brought to the hospital in a comatose condition, on March 29th, she died.

This suit was filed in the Louisiana courts under Article 2315 of the Louisiana code, the wrongful death statute of the state.

Two elements of damages were alleged, totalling $60,000.00.

$55,000.00 was alleged as the damages that these children suffered for the loss of their mother prior to the age of majority.

This is the wrongful death element.

$5,000.00 was alleged as the survivorship portion of the damages for the decedent's pain and suffering before she died.

After procedural matters were taken care of in the lower court, the trial court dismissed the cause of action.

This was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of Louisiana and one reason was given for denying these illegitimate children the right to sue and the words of the Louisiana Court of Appeals, the decision is "actually based on morals and general welfare because it discourages bringing children into the world out of wedlock".

Potter Stewart:

The Court -- did the Court make any distinction at all between the dependence action or the survivorship action?

Norman Dorsen:

It did not Mr. Justice Stewart.

Potter Stewart:

The first action, I suppose the damages could be plainly awarded only in the event of dependency, couldn't they?

Norman Dorsen:

Right.

That's correct Mr. Justice.

The Supreme --

Potter Stewart:

The second one is on behalf of the mother herself for her own pain and suffering.

Norman Dorsen:

That's quite correct.

The Supreme Court of Louisiana without opinion refused the writ of error.