Lalli v. Lalli
439 U.S. 259 (1978)

Facts:

  • A New York statute had a proof requirement in order for illegitimate children to inherit from their fathers. Specifically:
    • “An illegitimate child is the legitimate child of his father so that he and his issue inherit from his father if a court of competent jurisdiction has, during the lifetime of the father, made an order of filiation declaring paternity in a proceeding instituted during the pregnancy of the mother or within two years from the birth of the child.”
  • Robert Lalli, an illegitimate son, challenged the constitutionality (equal protection) of the statute when his father, Mario, died.
  • He tendered certain evidence of his relationship with Mario, including a notarized document in which Lalli, in consenting to appellant’s marriage, referred to him as “my son,” and several affidavits by persons who stated that Lalli had acknowledged openly and often that Robert and Maureen were his children.

History:

  • Trial court ruled that Lalli was properly excluded from the estate.
  • NY Court of Appeals affirmed.

Issue:
Whether the requirement imposed by the statute was substantially related to the important state interests it was intended to promote.

Holding:
Yes. Affirmed.

Reasoning:

  • Classifications based on illegitimacy are not subject to “strict scrutiny,” thus intermediate scrutiny was applied.
  • Here, the primary state goal underlying the challenged aspects of the statute was to provide for the just and orderly disposition of property at death. Also wanted to encourage legitimate families.
    • This has long been an area of considerable magnitude for states. With that said, the interest was substantial.
    • In terms of the means, accuracy is enhanced by placing these disputes in a judicial forum during the lifetime of the father. It also allows the father to defend his reputation and lessens the likelihood of fraudulent assertions.
    • Lastly, the court noted it doesn’t engage in issues of fairness and possible alternatives. Rather, its focus is on whether the “statute’s relation to the state interests it is intended to promote is so tenuous that it lacks the rationality contemplated by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Rule: For inheritance purposes, statutes requiring that illegitimate children make an order of filiation declaring paternity in a proceeding instituted during the pregnancy of the mother or within two years from the birth are constitutional.