Thursday, November 14, 2013

M.L.B. v. S.L.J. case brief

M.L.B. v. S.L.J. case brief summary
519 U.S. 102 (1996)

Petitioner mother appealed from a decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court dismissing her appeal of a trial court decision permanently terminating her parental rights owing to her failure to pay record transcription costs due to her poverty.

After petitioner's parental rights to her minor children were terminated, she sought to appeal; but since she lacked funds to pay for record preparation, required by Miss. Code Ann. §§ 11-51-3 and 11-51-29 as a predicate to appeal, her appeal was dismissed.


  • The court then granted certiorari and reversed, reasoning that: 
  • (a) an indigent's right to a transcript at state expense for purposes of appeal, while absolute in criminal cases, applied rarely in civil cases; 
  • (b) the right did apply in civil cases, pursuant to the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of U.S. Constitutional Amendment XIV, when the interest involved is sufficiently strong; and 
  • (c) parents' interest in their relationship with their children was sufficiently strong as to require provision of a free transcript for indigents. 
  • The court cautioned that a verbatim transcript was not essential and that it was the complete termination of parental rights was crucial factor.
The judgment was reversed. The Fourteenth Amendment did not permit a state to condition the taking of an appeal from the termination of parental rights on the affected parent's ability to pay record transcription costs.

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