ASTRUE v. CAPATO
132 S.Ct. 2021 (2012)
182 L. Ed. 2d 887
Michael J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Petitioner
Karen K. CAPATO, on behalf of B.N.C., et al.
Supreme Court of United States.
Argued March 19, 2012.
Decided May 21, 2012.
Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.
Bernard A. Kuttner, Millburn, NJ, Jeffrey A. Meyer, Yale Law School, Supreme Court Clinic, New Haven, CT, Charles A. Rothfeld, Counsel of Record, Andrew J. Pincus, Michael B. Kimberly, Paul W. Hughes, Mayer Brown LLP, Washington, DC, for Respondents.
David F. Black, General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Baltimore, MD, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Tony West, Assistant Attorney General, Edwin S. Kneedler, Deputy Solicitor General, Eric D. Miller, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Michael S. Raab, Kelsi Brown Corkran, Attorneys, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.
Justice GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.
Karen and Robert Capato married in 1999. Robert died of cancer less than three years later. With the help of in vitro fertilization, Karen gave birth to twins 18 months after her husband's death. Karen's application for Social Security survivors benefits for the twins, which the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied,
prompted this litigation. The technology that made the twins' conception and birth possible, it is safe to say, was not contemplated by Congress when the relevant provisions of the Social Security Act (Act) originated (1939) or were amended to read as they now do (1965).
Karen Capato, respondent here, relies on the Act's initial definition of "child" in 42 U.S.C. § 416(e): "`[C]hild' means . . . the child or legally adopted child of an [insured] individual." Robert was an insured individual, and the twins, it is uncontested, are the biological children of Karen and Robert. That satisfies the Act's terms, and no further inquiry is in order, Karen maintains. The SSA, however, identifies subsequent provisions, § 416(h)(2) and (h)(3)(C), as critical, and reads them to entitle biological children to benefits only if they qualify for inheritance from the decedent under state intestacy law, or satisfy one of the statutory alternatives to that requirement.
We conclude that the SSA's reading is better attuned to the statute's text and its design to benefit primarily those supported by the deceased wage earner in his or her lifetime. And even if the SSA's longstanding interpretation is not the only reasonable one, it is at least a permissible construction that garners the Court's respect under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 81 L.Ed.2d 694 (1984).I
Karen Capato married Robert Capato in May 1999. Shortly thereafter, Robert was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and was told that the chemotherapy he required might render him sterile. Because the couple wanted children, Robert, before undergoing chemotherapy, deposited his semen in a sperm bank, where it was frozen and stored. Despite Robert's aggressive treatment regime, Karen conceived naturally and gave birth to a son in August 2001. The Capatos, however, wanted their son to have a sibling.
Robert's health deteriorated in late 2001, and he died in Florida, where he and Karen then resided, in March 2002. His will, executed in Florida, named as beneficiaries the son born of his marriage to Karen and two children from a previous marriage. The will made no provision for children conceived after Robert's death, although the Capatos had told their lawyer they wanted future offspring to be placed on a par with existing children. Shortly after Robert's death, Karen began in vitro fertilization using her husband's frozen sperm. She conceived in January 2003 and gave birth to twins in September 2003, 18 months after Robert's death.