Paulussen v. Herion

LOCATION: Hardwick's Apartment

DOCKET NO.: 85-88
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 475 US 557 (1986)
ARGUED: Mar 05, 1986
DECIDED: Mar 25, 1986

Esther L. Hornik - on behalf of the appellant
Joseph N. Onek - on behalf of appellee

Facts of the case


Media for Paulussen v. Herion

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 05, 1986 in Paulussen v. Herion

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Paulussen versus Herion.

Ms. Hornik, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Esther L. Hornik:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The issue in this case is whether the Pennsylvania statute of limitations of six years from birth in a support action for illegitimate children violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment where no similar restriction exists in support actions for legitimate children.

There are two points to be made: first, the statute is unconstitutional.

It treats legitimate and illegitimate children differently without a substantial state interest for such discrimination.

In particular, the only conceivable state interest of protection from stale and fraudulent claims is clearly weak.

Current scientific procedures are sufficiently precise so that the risk of false paternity charges in no sense balances against unfair loss of support for illegitimate children.

Secondly, this case is not moot.

Although current Pennsylvania law establishes an 18-year statute of limitations in response to federal law, the law operates only from December 1st of 1985.

Pennsylvania precedent suggests that the new law does not apply retroactively to a back child support award so that the illegitimate child in this case would lose all right to child support from the date of filing of the complaint in this action, February 11th of 1980.

Mrs. Hornik, may I ask, that statute was enacted since this case was decided below?

Esther L. Hornik:

Yes, that is correct.

The statute was enacted--

Warren E. Burger:

If it did apply retroactively, would there be any issue for us to decide?

Esther L. Hornik:

--If it did apply retroactively, no, there would be no issue.

But Pennsylvania precedent suggests that the law--

Well, suggests, you say?

Esther L. Hornik:

--Well, actually, no, there's definite Pennsylvania precedent, the cases of Williams versus Wolfe, Hatfield versus Hazel, Hatfield versus--

Well, I just wondered if we ought not to... why should we address this issue if in fact a new statute applies to this case?

Why shouldn't we send it back to find out?

Esther L. Hornik:

--Because this new... the new statute, the one that gives an 18-year limitation period, contains no language in it to suggest that it would apply retroactively.

Pennsylvania has a rule of statutory construction that in the absence of--

Well, my only suggestion is, wouldn't the Pennsylvania courts be better able to... more qualified to address this application than we are?

Esther L. Hornik:

--No, because it's already been decided under Pennsylvania precedent that the law in existence at the time of the filing of a paternity complaint is the law to be applied in the case, and since this case was filed in February of 1980, the law to be applied would be the six-year statute of limitations that was in existence in 1980.

And has the... the courts of Pennsylvania, in any case other than yours here, dealt with this statute?

Esther L. Hornik:

With the six-year, statute, or with the 18-year?

The 18-year.

Esther L. Hornik:

No, because it's so new, it just became effective on December 31st of 1985.

No court to my knowledge has had an opportunity to review its implications.