LOCATION: Great Sioux Indian Reservation
DOCKET NO.: 78-1513
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
CITATION: 445 US 23 (1980)
ARGUED: Oct 31, 1979
DECIDED: Feb 26, 1980
Edward L. Merrigan - on behalf of the Appellees
Harriet S. Shapiro - on behalf of the Appellant
Facts of the case
Media for United States v. ClarkAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 31, 1979 in United States v. Clark
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 26, 1980 in United States v. Clark
Warren E. Burger:
The judgment and opinion of the Court in 78-1513, United States against Clark will be announced by Mr. Justice Marshall.
This case is here on appeal from the United States Court of Claims.
The question presented is whether illegitimate children of a federal civil service employee are entitled to survivors benefits under the Civil Service Retirement Act when the children once have lived with the employee in a family relationship or not living with the employee at the time of his death.
In an opinion filed today with the clerk, we hold that such children may recover these benefits.
Appellee is a mother of two illegitimate children fathered by a federal employee covered by the Civil Service Retirement Act.
The children born in 1968 and 1971 respectively lived as a family with the appellee and the civil service employee through 1971, at which time the appellee and the children began living apart from the employee.
After employee's death in 1974, the appellee applied for survivor's benefit for the children under the Act.
And under that Act, all legitimate and adopted children under 18 years of age qualify for such benefits but step-children and recognized neutral children under 18, may recover only if they lived with the employee in regular parent-child relationship.
The Civil Service Commission's Bureau of Retirement, Insurance and Occupational Health denied the appellee's application holding that the Act bars recovery of survivor's benefits for illegitimate children who are not living with the employee at the time of his death.
The Commission's Board of Appeals and Review affirmed.
Appellee then filed this action in the Court of Claims alleging that the Acts lived with requirement was met in this case because their children had once lived with their father in a family relationship.
Alternatively, she contended that the Act violate the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment if it allowed recovery only for illegitimate children who lived with the government employee at the time of his death.
The Court of Claims granted appellee's motion for summary judgment.
Ignoring the statutory, a contention the Court held that the Acts lived with requirement unconstitutionally discriminated against illegitimate children.
It is well settled that this Court will not pass on the constitutional act of Congress that the reconstruction of that Act is fairly possibly by which a question may be avoided.
In this case, we decline to reach the constitutional contention raised by appellee.
Rather, we hold that the Acts lived with requirement should be construed as allowing recovery for illegitimate children once lived with the employee in a family relationship but were not living with the employee at the time of death.
That construction is fair and reasonable in light of the language, purpose and legislative history of the Act and is necessary to avoid the serious constitutional issues raised by the appellee.
Mr. Justice Powell joined by the Chief Justice concurs in the judgment and has filed an opinion on that effect.
Mr. Justice Rehnquist has filed a dissenting opinion which Mr. Justice Stewart has joined.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you Mr. Justice Marshall.