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Levy v. Louisiana

U.S.
May 20, 1968
391 U.S. 68 (1968)

Summary

holding unconstitutional state statute that discriminated against illegitimates to discourage births out of wedlock

Summary of this case from Stone v. Williams

Opinion

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF LOUISIANA.

No. 508.

Argued March 27, 1968. Decided May 20, 1968.

Appellant, on behalf of five illegitimate children, brought this action under a Louisiana statute (La. Civ. Code Art. 2315) for the wrongful death of their mother. The trial court dismissed the suit and the Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that a surviving "child" under the statute did not include an illegitimate child, denial of whose right of recovery was "based on morals and general welfare because it discourages bringing children into the world out of wedlock." The State Supreme Court denied certiorari. Held: The statute as construed to deny a right of recovery under Art. 2315 by illegitimate children creates an invidious discrimination contravening the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, since legitimacy or illegitimacy of birth has no relation to the nature of the wrong allegedly inflicted on the mother. Pp. 70-72.

250 La. 25, 193 So.2d 530, reversed.

Norman Dorsen argued the cause for appellant. With him on the brief were Adolph J. Levy, Lawrence J. Smith, and Melvin L. Wulf.

William A. Porteous III argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Jack P. F. Gremillion, Attorney General of Louisiana, Dorothy D. Wolbrette and L.K. Clement, Jr., Assistant Attorneys General, and William A. Porteous, Jr.

Briefs of amici curiae, urging reversal, were filed by Leo Pfeffer and Joseph B. Robison for the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. A. et al., and by Harry D. Krause, Jack Greenberg, and Leroy D. Clark for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., et al.

Brief of amicus curiae, urging affirmance, was filed by Mr. Gremillion, pro se, William P. Schuler, Second Assistant Attorney General, and Mrs. Wolbrette and Mr. Clement for the Attorney General of Louisiana.


Appellant sued on behalf of five illegitimate children to recover, under a Louisiana statute (La. Civ. Code Ann. Art. 2315 (Supp. 1967)) for two kinds of damages as a result of the wrongful death of their mother: (1) the damages to them for the loss of their mother; and (2) those based on the survival of a cause of action which the mother had at the time of her death for pain and suffering. Appellees are the doctor who treated her and the insurance company.

"Every act whatever of man that causes damage to another obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it.
"The right to recover damages to property caused by an offense or quasi offense is a property right which, on the death of the obligee, is inherited by his legal, instituted, or irregular heirs, subject to the community rights of the surviving spouse.
"The right to recover all other damages caused by an offense or quasi offense, if the injured person dies, shall survive for a period of one year from the death of the deceased in favor of: (1) the surviving spouse and child or children of the deceased, or either such spouse or such child or children; (2) the surviving father and mother of the deceased, or either of them, if he left no spouse or child surviving; and (3) the surviving brothers and sisters of the deceased, or any of them, if he left no spouse, child, or parent surviving. The survivors in whose favor this right of action survives may also recover the damages which they sustained through the wrongful death of the deceased. A right to recover damages under the provisions of this paragraph is a property right which, on the death of the survivor in whose favor the right of action survived, is inherited by his legal, instituted, or irregular heirs, whether suit has been instituted thereon by the survivor or not.
"As used in this article, the words `child,' `brother,' `sister,' `father,' and `mother' include a child, brother, sister, father, and mother, by adoption, respectively."

The State of Louisiana was dismissed from the action and exceptions relating to the Charity Hospital, at which the mother was treated, were continued indefinitely. No appeal was taken with respect to either of those defendants.

We assume in the present state of the pleadings that the mother, Louise Levy, gave birth to these five illegitimate children and that they lived with her; that she treated them as a parent would treat any other child; that she worked as a domestic servant to support them, taking them to church every Sunday and enrolling them, at her own expense, in a parochial school. The Louisiana District Court dismissed the suit. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that "child" in Article 2315 means "legitimate child," the denial to illegitimate children of "the right to recover" being "based on morals and general welfare because it discourages bringing children into the world out of wedlock." 192 So.2d 193, 195. The Supreme Court of Louisiana denied certiorari. 250 La. 25, 193 So.2d 530.

The case is here on appeal ( 28 U.S.C. § 1257 (2)); and we noted probable jurisdiction, 389 U.S. 925, the statute as construed having been sustained against challenge under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

We start from the premise that illegitimate children are not "nonpersons." They are humans, live, and have their being. They are clearly "persons" within the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

See Note, The Rights of Illegitimates Under Federal Statutes, 76 Harv. L. Rev. 337 (1962).

No State shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

While a State has broad power when it comes to making classifications ( Ferguson v. Skrupa, 372 U.S. 726, 732), it may not draw a line which constitutes an invidious discrimination against a particular class. See Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541-542. Though the test has been variously stated, the end result is whether the line drawn is a rational one. See Morey v. Doud, 354 U.S. 457, 465-466.

In applying the Equal Protection Clause to social and economic legislation, we give great latitude to the legislature in making classifications. Williamson v. Lee Optical Co., 348 U.S. 483, 489; Morey v. Doud, supra, at 465-466. Even so, would a corporation, which is a "person," for certain purposes, within the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause ( Pembina Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania, 125 U.S. 181, 188) be required to forgo recovery for wrongs done its interests because its incorporators were all bastards? However that might be, we have been extremely sensitive when it comes to basic civil rights ( Skinner v. Oklahoma, supra, at 541; Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 669-670) and have not hesitated to strike down an invidious classification even though it had history and tradition on its side. ( Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483; Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, supra, at 669.) The rights asserted here involve the intimate, familial relationship between a child and his own mother. When the child's claim of damage for loss of his mother is in issue, why, in terms of "equal protection," should the tortfeasors go free merely because the child is illegitimate? Why should the illegitimate child be denied rights merely because of his birth out of wedlock? He certainly is subject to all the responsibilities of a citizen, including the payment of taxes and conscription under the Selective Service Act. How under our constitutional regime can he be denied correlative rights which other citizens enjoy?

Legitimacy or illegitimacy of birth has no relation to the nature of the wrong allegedly inflicted on the mother. These children, though illegitimate, were dependent on her; she cared for them and nurtured them; they were indeed hers in the biological and in the spiritual sense; in her death they suffered wrong in the sense that any dependent would.

Under Louisiana law both parents are under a duty to support their illegitimate children. La. Civ. Code Ann. Arts. 239, 240 (1952).

We conclude that it is invidious to discriminate against them when no action, conduct, or demeanor of theirs is possibly relevant to the harm that was done the mother. Reversed.

We can say with Shakespeare: "Why bastard, wherefore base? When my dimensions are as well compact, My mind as generous, and my shape as true, As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?" King Lear, Act I, Scene 2.

Under Louisiana's Workmen's Compensation Act (La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 23:1231, 23:1252, 23:1253 (1964)) an illegitimate child, who is a dependent member of the deceased parent's family, may recover compensation for his death. See Thompson v. Vestal Lumber Mfg. Co., 208 La. 83, 22 So.2d 842 (1945). Employers are entitled to recover from a wrongdoer workmen's compensation payments they make to the deceased's dependent illegitimate children. See Board of Commissioners v. City of New Orleans, 223 La. 199, 65 So.2d 313 (1953); Thomas v. Matthews Lumber Co., 201 So.2d 357 (Ct.App.La. 1967).

[For dissenting opinion of MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, see post, p. 76.]


Summaries of

Levy v. Louisiana

U.S.
May 20, 1968
391 U.S. 68 (1968)

holding unconstitutional state statute that discriminated against illegitimates to discourage births out of wedlock

Summary of this case from Stone v. Williams

holding that state may not create a right of action in favor of children for the wrongful death of a parent and exclude illegitimate children from the benefit of such a right

Summary of this case from Lewis v. Grinker

holding statute that precluded illegitimate child from maintaining an action for wrongful death of mother violated illegitimate child's right to equal protection

Summary of this case from DuPhily v. DuPhily

holding unconstitutional a statute denying an illegitimate child's recovery for the wrongful death of its mother

Summary of this case from Hepfel v. Bashaw

finding that a state may not create a right of action in favor of children for the wrongful death of a parent and exclude illegitimate children from the benefit of the same right

Summary of this case from C.K. v. Shalala

reversing state court judgment refusing to extend to children born out of wedlock the right, under state law, to sue for wrongful death of mother

Summary of this case from Kopp v. Fair Political Practices Commission

In Levy the Court struck down a Louisiana wrongful-death statute that gave legitimate, but not illegitimate, children a cause of action for the wrongful death of their parents.

Summary of this case from Trimble v. Gordon

In Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68 (1968), the Court held that a Louisiana statute which allowed legitimate but not illegitimate children to recover for the wrongful death of their mother violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Another Louisiana statute was challenged on similar grounds in Weber v. Aetna Cas. Surety Co., 406 U.S. 164 (1972).

Summary of this case from Califano v. Goldfarb

In Levy, the Court held invalid as denying equal protection of the laws, a Louisiana statute which barred an illegitimate child from recovering for the wrongful death of its mother when such recoveries by legitimate children were authorized. The Court there decided that the fact of a child's birth out of wedlock bore no reasonable relation to the purpose of wrongful-death statutes which compensate children for the death of a mother.

Summary of this case from Weber v. Aetna Casualty Surety Co.

In Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68, 88 S.Ct. 1509, 20 L.Ed.2d 436 (1968), and Glona v. American Guarantee Liability Insurance Co., 391 U.S. 73, 88 S.Ct. 1515, 20 L.Ed.2d 441 (1968), the Court struck down state wrongful death statutes that conditioned the right of recovery, in part, on the legitimacy of the children involved, either as decedents or as survivors. The Court later struck down a workers' compensation statute that gave lesser rights of recovery to illegitimate children.

Summary of this case from Marie v. McGreevey

In Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68, 88 S.Ct. 1509, 20 L.Ed.2d 436 (1968), the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was a denial of equal protection to bar illegitimate children a right of recovery for the death of their mother under a state wrongful death statute.

Summary of this case from Purnell v. City of Akron

In Levy and Glona the Court had no problem of defeating reasonable expectations that any party had entertained in the past. It held merely that the illegitimacy of the plaintiff or the decedent was not a constitutionally adequate defense to a wrongful death action.

Summary of this case from Jerry Vogel Music Co. v. Edward B. Marks Music

In Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68, 88 S.Ct. 1509, 20 L.Ed.2d 436 (1968), the Supreme Court found that illegitimates could not be excluded from the class of persons authorized to file wrongful death actions, when the illegitimate was dependent on the decedent.

Summary of this case from Prudential Ins. Co. of America v. Moorhead

In Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68, 88 S.Ct. 1509, 20 L.Ed.2d 436 (1968) and Glona v. American Guarantee and Liability Insurance Co., 391 U.S. 73, 88 S.Ct. 1515, 20 L.Ed.2d 441 (1968), arguments that denial of wrongful death benefits to illegitimates and their mother would discourage immorality and illegitimacy were examined and found constitutionally insufficient to justify the discrimination.

Summary of this case from Boles v. Califano

In Levy and Glona, the Court held that the Louisiana wrongful death statute's failure to provide illegitimate children and their mothers the right to sue for each other's wrongful death lacked any rational basis and therefore constituted a denial of equal protection.

Summary of this case from Vogel v. Pan American World Airways, Inc.

In Levy, the Supreme Court, in what some critics considered an expansive mood, decreed it a violation of the equal protection clause to deny an action for a wrongful death of a parent to an illegitimate child while giving the right of action to legitimate children.

Summary of this case from Pascal v. Charley's Trucking Service, Inc.

In Levy, the court ruled that Louisiana could not prevent an illegitimate child from recovering for the wrongful death of its mother solely because the child was illegitimate where, had the child been legitimate, a right of recovery would have been provided.

Summary of this case from Norton v. Weinberger

In Levy, supra, the Court voided a Louisiana law denying actions for wrongful death of a parent to illegitimates while in Glona, supra, it held unconstitutional a law denying a wrongful death action to an unwed parent for the loss of his or her illegitimate child.

Summary of this case from New Jersey Welfare Rights Organizations v. Cahill

In Levy, the Court held that the Louisiana wrongful death statute created an unconstitutional distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children by prohibiting the plaintiffs, who were in the latter category, from bringing a suit for damages precipitated by the death of their mother.

Summary of this case from Miller v. Laird

In Levy, the court struck down a Louisiana statute which barred illegitimate children's cause of action for the wrongful death of their mother, and in Glona, permitted the mother of an illegitimate child to recover for his wrongful death and struck down the Louisiana statute which prohibited such recovery.

Summary of this case from Williams v. Richardson

In Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68, 88 S.Ct. 1509, 20 L.Ed.2d 436 (1968), the Court found unconstitutional a Louisiana statute which prohibited illegitimate children from suing for the wrongful death of their mother.

Summary of this case from Greffin v. Richardson

In Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68, 88 S.Ct. 1509, 20 L.Ed.2d 436 (1968), the Court held impermissible a Louisiana law which did not allow illegitimate children, dependent on their mother for support, to recover for her wrongful death.

Summary of this case from Davis v. Richardson

In Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68, 88 S.Ct. 1509, 20 L.Ed.2d 436 (1968) five illegitimate children filed suit in a Louisiana District Court for the wrongful death of their mother pursuant to the Louisiana wrongful death statute.

Summary of this case from S. v. D.

In Levy, the Court held that it was a violation of equal protection to bar an illegitimate child from recovering under Louisiana's wrongful death statute where recovery by legitimate children was authorized.

Summary of this case from Garner v. Richardson

In Levy the Supreme Court held that Louisiana could not, consistently with the equal protection clause, bar an illegitimate child from recovering for the wrongful death of its mother when such recovery by a legitimate child was authorized.

Summary of this case from Watts v. Veneman
Case details for

Levy v. Louisiana

Case Details

Full title:LEVY, ADMINISTRATRIX v . LOUISIANA THROUGH THE CHARITY HOSPITAL OF…

Court:U.S.

Date published: May 20, 1968

Citations

391 U.S. 68 (1968)
88 S. Ct. 1509

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