Willamette Law Online

United States Supreme Court


Astrue v. Capato

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: May 21, 2012
Case #: 11-159
Ginsburg, J., for the Court.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-159.pdf

Administrative Law: Posthumously conceived biological children are entitled to Social Security survivor’s benefits only if they could inherit from the deceased under state intestacy law or meet another statutory alternative.

Eighteen months after her husband’s death, Respondent gave birth to twins conceived through in vitro fertilization. Respondent applied for survivor's insurance benefits for the twins and the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied her application. The District Court relied on the intestacy provision of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. and affirmed the denial of her application, but the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit concluded that because the twins were “the undisputed biological children of a deceased wage earner and his widow” that they qualified for survivors benefits regardless of state intestacy law.

The Court held that the SSA's “longstanding interpretation” that state intestacy law governs which children are eligible for survivor benefits was a reasonable reading of the statute and was thus entitled to Chevron deference and reversed the Third Circuit.