AR 97-3(11)


Acquiescence Ruling 97-3(11)

AR 97-3(11): Daniels on Behalf of Daniels v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 1516 (11th Cir. 1992) -- Application of a State's Intestacy Law Requirement that Paternity be Established During the Lifetime of the Father -- Title II of the Social Security Act.


Whether, in determining a child's status under section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act (the Act), the Social Security Administration (SSA),[1] in applying the requirement imposed by a State's law of intestate succession that an illegitimate child establish paternity during the lifetime of the father, created an insurmountable barrier that violated the constitutional right to equal protection of the law.

Statute/Regulation/Ruling Citation:

Sections 202(d) and 216(h)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 402(d) and 416(h)(2)(A)); 20 CFR 404.354(b).


Eleventh (Alabama, Florida, Georgia)

Daniels on Behalf of Daniels v. Sullivan, 979 F.2d 1516 (11th Cir. 1992).

Applicability of Ruling:

This Ruling applies to determinations or decisions at all administrative levels (i.e., initial, reconsideration, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing and Appeals Council).

Description of Case:

On April 11, 1985, Cassandra Daniels, who was 14 years old, gave birth to a son, Adonis Daniels. Daniels claimed that Kirby Marshall was Adonis' father even though Daniels and Marshall never married or lived together, and a father's name was not listed on the child's birth certificate. Although Marshall did not provide support for Adonis, both Daniels' mother and Marshall's mother stated that he was the father. Marshall died in an automobile accident on September 12, 1987.

In November 1987 Daniels filed an application, on behalf of Adonis, for child's benefits on Marshall's earnings record but the claim was denied, both initially and upon reconsideration, because the child did not satisfy any of the statutory entitlement requirements. After a hearing, an ALJ found that Adonis was not Marshall's "child" under section 216(h)(3) of the Act because the deceased wage earner was not living with or contributing to the support of Adonis at the time of his death. The ALJ also found that Adonis was not entitled under the other definitions of child in section 216(h), including the definition incorporated by reference from the Georgia law of intestate succession.[2] However, the ALJ stated that Adonis appeared to be the child of the worker. The Appeals Council denied Daniels' request for review of the ALJ's decision.

The plaintiff sought judicial review alleging that SSA's application of the Georgia statutory scheme for intestate succession was unconstitutional because it denied her child equal protection of law. The district court affirmed SSA's findings and rejected the constitutional challenge. Daniels appealed and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court on the grounds that, as applied to the particular facts of the case, SSA's use of Georgia intestacy law was unconstitutional.


After carefully considering the principles stated in the leading cases addressing the constitutionality of similar State statutes, the Court of Appeals held that "as applied to this case, the Social Security Act's incorporation of the Georgia intestacy scheme violates equal protection."[3] Noting that the United States Supreme Court, in Pickett v. Brown, had ruled unconstitutional a State statute that imposed a two-year limit on paternity and child support actions on behalf of certain illegitimate children, the Daniels court found that the obstacles that prevented a child from establishing paternity during the first two years after birth persisted, at least, into the third year. Accordingly, the court concluded that "where the father died less than two and one-half years after Adonis' birth, the requirement that paternity be established during the lifetime of the father effectively 'impose[d] an unconstitutional insurmountable barrier which denie[d] appellant the equal protection of the laws.'"[4]

The court also noted that Daniels was further impeded in establishing the paternity of her child because of her status as a minor. Although the court did not hold that the Georgia intestacy statute was unconstitutional, it found that SSA's application of that statute to the specific facts of the case when determining Daniels' eligibility for Social Security survivors benefits violated equal protection.

Statement As To How Daniels Differs From Social Security Policy

In accordance with section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Act, SSA uses State laws to decide whether a claimant is the child of a deceased worker. Under its regulation (20 CFR 404.354(b)) implementing section 216(h)(2)(A), SSA "look[s] to the laws that were in effect at the time the insured worker died in the State where the insured had his or her permanent home." The State laws governing intestate succession (i.e., the laws State courts use to decide whether a claimant could inherit a child's share of the worker's personal property if the worker had died without leaving a will) are controlling.

The Daniels court found that the Act's incorporation of the Georgia intestacy law's requirement that the paternity of an illegitimate child be established during the lifetime of the father was unconstitutional as applied to the facts in Daniels' case, where paternity would have had to be established in less than two and one-half years from the date of the child's birth. Under these circumstances, the court found that the requirement constituted an insurmountable barrier and violated the child's right to equal protection of law.

Explanation of How SSA Will Apply The Daniels Decision Within The Circuit

This Ruling applies only to cases where the applicant for surviving child's benefits under section 216(h)(2)(A) of the Act resides in Alabama, Florida or Georgia at the time of the determination or decision at any administrative level, i.e., initial, reconsideration, ALJ hearing or Appeals Council.

When adjudicating a claim for surviving child's benefits involving the establishment of inheritance rights under a State's intestacy law, SSA will allow a period of two and one-half years from the date of birth of the applicant for the commencement and resolution of legitimacy proceedings before applying a statutory requirement that requires an illegitimate child to establish paternity during the lifetime of the father. Adjudicators will continue to apply the other provisions of State intestacy law in effect on the date of the worker's death.

[1] Under the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-296, effective March 31, 1995, SSA became an independent Agency in the Executive Branch of the United States Government and was provided ultimate responsibility for administering the Social Security programs under title II of the Act. Prior to March 31, 1995, the Secretary of Health and Human Services had such responsibility.

[2] At the pertinent time, Georgia law provided that a child born out of wedlock may inherit from or through his father or any paternal kin only if the criteria specified in the statute are satisfied "during the lifetime of the father and after conception of the child." A 1991 amendment, not applicable in this case, expanded the time frame for establishing paternity to include the period when proceedings on the father's estate are pending.

[3] The court considered the following leading cases: Clark v. Jeter, 486 U.S. 456 (1988); Pickett v. Brown, 462 U.S. 1 (1983); Mills v. Habluetzel, 456 U.S. 91 (1982); Lalli v. Lalli, 439 U.S. 259 (1978); and Handley, By and Through Herron v. Schweiker, 697 F.2d 999 (11th Cir. 1983).

[4] Quoting Handley, 697 F.2d at 1003.

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