PARHAM V. HUGHES, 441 U. S. 347 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Parham v. Hughes, 441 U.S. 347 (1979)

Parham v. Hughes

No. 78-3

Argued January 15, 1979

Decided April 24, 1979

441 U.S. 347


A Georgia statute, while permitting the mother of an illegitimate child, or the father if he has legitimated the child and there is no mother, to sue for the wrongful death of the child, precludes a father who has not legitimated a child from so suing. Appellant, the father of an illegitimate child, whom he had not legitimated and who was killed, along with the mother, in an automobile accident, sued for the child's wrongful death, and the Georgia trial court, denying a summary judgment for the defendant (appellee), held that the statute violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statutory classification was rationally related to three specified legitimate state interests.

Held: The judgment is affirmed. Pp. 441 U. S. 351-359; 441 U. S. 359-361.

241 Ga.198, 243 S.E.2d 867, affirmed.


1. The Georgia statute does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 441 U. S. 351-358.

(a) If the statute is not invidiously discriminatory, it is entitled to a presumption of validity and will be upheld

"unless the varying treatment of different groups or persons is so unrelated to the achievement of any combination of legitimate purposes that we can only conclude that the legislature's actions were irrational,"

Vance v. Bradley, 440 U. S. 93, 440 U. S. 97. Pp. 441 U. S. 351-352.

(b) The rationale that it is unjust and ineffective for society to express its condemnation of procreation outside the marital relationship by punishing the illegitimate child who is in no way responsible for his situation and is unable to change it, Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 406 U. S. 164, is inapplicable to the statute in question, which does not impose differing burdens or award differing benefits to legitimate and illegitimate children, but simply denies a natural father the right to sue for his illegitimate child's wrongful death. Pp. 441 U. S. 352-353.

(c) The statute does not invidiously discriminate against appellant simply because he is of the male sex. The conferral of the right of a

Page 441 U. S. 348

natural father to sue for his child's wrongful death only if he has previously acted to identify himself, to undertake his paternal responsibilities, and to make his child legitimate, does not reflect any overbroad generalizations about men as a class, but rather the reality that, in Georgia, only a father can, by unilateral action, legitimate an illegitimate child. Reed v. Reed, 404 U. S. 71; Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U. S. 677; Stanton v. Stanton, 421 U. S. 7, distinguished. Pp. 441 U. S. 353-357.

(d) The statutory classification is a rational means for dealing with the problem of proving paternity. If paternity has not been established before the commencement of a wrongful death action, a defendant may be faced with the possibility of multiple lawsuits by individuals all claiming to be the deceased child's father. Pp. 441 U. S. 357-358.

2. Nor does the Georgia statute violate the Due Process Clause, Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U. S. 645, distinguished. Pp. 441 U. S. 358-359.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL concluded that the gender-based distinction in the Georgia statute does not violate equal protection, inasmuch as it is substantially related to the State's objective of avoiding difficult problems in proving paternity after the death of an illegitimate child. Pp. 441 U. S. 359-361.

STEWART, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which BURGER, C.J.,and REHNQUIST and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 441 U. S. 359. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 441 U. S. 361.

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