MSC to hear oral arguments this week

Are children conceived after their father’s death — via in vitro fertilization using his frozen sperm — his “children” for purposes of Michigan’s intestacy law? That is a question that the Michigan Supreme Court will consider when it hears oral arguments in In re Certified Question (Mattison v Commissioner of Social Security) this week. The issue is one of first impression in Michigan.

The case comes to the Supreme Court as a certified question from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan; the federal court is considering a woman’s challenge to the Social Security Administration’s denial of her application for children’s survivors’ benefits. The SSA maintains that the posthumously conceived children did not “survive” the woman’s husband, who died in Michigan, as defined by Michigan’s Estates and Protected Individuals Code and so cannot inherit intestate from him or receive Social Security survivor’s benefits. Under the Social Security Act, an applicant for child’s benefits must demonstrate that he or she is the “child” of the deceased wage earner; the act provides that, in determining whether the applicant is the deceased’s child, the Commissioner of Social Security “shall apply” the intestacy law of the state where the deceased lived at the time of death. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the question whether posthumously conceived children qualify for Social Security benefits must be determined using state intestacy law.

The Court will also hear arguments in a challenge to the Michigan Department of Human Services’ 2011 change in policy that limits family cash assistance to 60 months. The policy would also eliminate a hardship exemption that previously allowed some recipients to continue receiving cash assistance past the lifetime limit. The plaintiffs in Smith v DHS Director, who receive cash assistance under the hardship exemption, challenge the DHS policy, arguing in part that the DHS director had no authority to revoke what the plaintiffs contend is an entitlement under the state’s Social Welfare Act.

The Court will hear oral arguments in eight other cases, including Price v High Pointe Oil Company, in which a Dewitt woman sought damages for emotional distress and mental anguish against a fuel oil delivery service that mistakenly pumped nearly 400 gallons of oil into her home’s basement, forcing the home’s destruction. The seven other cases involve age discrimination, criminal law, eminent domain, governmental immunity, no-fault insurance, paternity, and Whistleblowers’ Protection Act issues.

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