Mills v. Habluetzel,
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456 U.S. 91 (1982)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Mills v. Habluetzel, 456 U.S. 91 (1982)
Mills v. Habluetzel
Argued January 12, 1982
Decided April 5, 1982
456 U.S. 91
A Texas statute (§ 13.01) provides that a paternity suit to identify the natural father of an illegitimate child for purposes of obtaining support must be brought before the child is one year old, or the suit is barred. Appellant mother of an illegitimate child and the Texas Department of Human Resources brought suit in a Texas court on behalf of the child to establish that appellee was his natural father. The trial court dismissed the suit under § 13.01 because the child was one year and seven months old when the suit was filed. The Texas Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, holding that the one-year limitation was not tolled during minority, and did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Held: The one-year period for establishing paternity denies illegitimate children in Texas the equal protection of law. Pp. 456 U. S. 97-101.
(a) A State that grants an opportunity for legitimate children to obtain paternal support must also grant that opportunity to illegitimate children, Gomez v. Perez, 409 U. S. 535, and this latter opportunity must be more than illusory, although it need not be coterminous with the procedures accorded legitimate children. Pp. 456 U. S. 97-98.
(b) The period for obtaining support granted by Texas to illegitimate children must be of sufficient duration to present a reasonable opportunity for those with an interest in such children to assert claims on their behalf. And the time limitation on that opportunity must be substantially related to the State's interest in avoiding the litigation of stale or fraudulent claims. Section 13.01 fails to meet either of these requirements, and thus denies equal protection. Pp. 456 U. S. 98-101.
Reversed and remanded.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, and in Part I of which POWELL, J., joined, post, p. 456 U. S. 102. POWELL, J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, post, p. 456 U. S. 106.