Marshall v. Marshall

Marshall v. Marshall
Marshall v. Marshall
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued February 28, 2006
Decided May 1, 2006
Full case name Vickie Lynn Marshall v. E. Pierce Marshall
Docket nos. 04-1544
Citations 547 U.S. 293 (more)
2006 U.S. LEXIS 3456
Prior history Judgment for debtor on counterclaim in adversary proceeding, Marshall v. Marshall (In re Marshall) 253 B.R. 550 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2001); judgment for debtor, injunction denied, 257 B.R. 35 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2001); affirmed in part, vacated and remanded, 264 B.R. 609 (C.D. Cal. 2000); summary judgment to plaintiff denied, 271 B.R. 858 (C.D. Cal. 2001); discharge of claim against debtor granted, 273 B.R. 822 (Bankr. C.D. Cal 2002); judgment for debtor on counterclaims, 275 B.R. 5 (C.D. Cal. 2002); vacated and remanded, 392 F. 3d 1118 (9th Cir. 2004); cert. granted, 126 S. Ct. 35 (2005)
Jurisdiction was properly asserted by a Federal District Court over a widow debtor's counterclaim for tortious interference with a gift, because the judicially crafted "probate exception" to Federal court jurisdiction did not apply. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Ginsburg, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Breyer, Alito
Concurrence Stevens
Laws applied
28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C. § 1334

Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. 293 (2006),[1] is a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that a federal district court had equal or concurrent jurisdiction with state probate (Will) courts over tort claims under state common law. The case drew an unusual amount of interest because the petitioner was former Playboy Playmate and celebrity Anna Nicole Smith (whose legal name was Vickie Lynn Marshall).



Twelve years prior to his marriage to Smith, J. Howard Marshall II had set up a trust which owned all of his assets and would pass to his son E. Pierce Marshall after his death. Smith had claimed that it was J. Howard's intention after marriage to set up a separate trust for her benefit, which would essentially leave her half the appreciation of the assets of the trust during the period of the marriage, but that his son Pierce had interfered with the formation of this separate trust. J. Howard Marshall neither set up a trust in Smith's favor, nor had he changed the terms of his will to provide for her after his death. However, he did make his existing trust irrevocable soon after his marriage to Smith. As a result, Smith was disinherited. She sued in Texas Probate Court for a share of the estate on several grounds, and her litigation was actively opposed by Marshall's son Pierce. The primary ground for the son's opposition was that his father had an extensive estate plan executed over many decades which expressed his clear wishes. Pierce also believed his father had already been quite generous to Smith during the marriage, providing Smith with both expensive gifts and monetary resources.

After receiving a default judgment against her for sexual harassment, Smith petitioned for bankruptcy in California. Pierce made a non-dischargeability claim against Smith based on statements she made shortly after her husband died, accusing Pierce of frustrating J. Howard's intentions to set up a new trust and isolating his father. Pierce alleged these statements were libelous, and he successfully sued Smith's attorneys on the same grounds in Texas State Court. Smith opposed the claim and countersued Pierce on the basis her statements were true. The Bankruptcy Court dismissed the libel claim on summary judgment and did not allow the claim to proceed to trial. After being released from bankruptcy, Smith prosecuted her counterclaim against Pierce for interfering with the father's intention to set up a trust in favor of Smith.

During the Texas Probate proceeding, the Bankruptcy Court awarded Smith $474 million on the basis of a sanction against the son and deemed the interference to have occurred. The Federal District court subsequently vacated the Bankruptcy award and reduced Smith's award to $88 million.

However, after a five month jury trial in Texas, the Probate Court entered a decision that J. Howard Marshall's will and trust were valid and that his son was the primary beneficiary, rejecting Smith's claim that the son had exerted undue influence on his father or interfered with any trust for Smith. When the matter came before the 9th Circuit appellate court, it rendered the District Court's decision invalid on jurisdictional grounds, declaring that only Texas's Probate Courts had jurisdiction over probate matters.[2][3]

The Bush administration, which wanted to limit exceptions to federal jurisdiction in state probate related matters, instructed the United States Solicitor General to submit a brief on the side of the petitioner.


On May 1, 2006, the United States Supreme Court unanimously decided the case in favor of Anna Nicole Smith on the question of federal jurisdiction.[4] The case was sent back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to decide the remaining issues. On March 19, 2010, the same three-judge panel found in favor of E. Pierce Marshall because the California federal district court should not have reviewed matters previously decided in the Texas probate court.[5][6] Following the 9th Circuit's decision, lawyers for the estate of Anna Nicole Smith requested the appeal be heard before the entire circuit. However, on May 5, 2010, that request was denied.[7] On September 28, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court again agreed to hear the case.[8]

On January 18, 2011, the United States Supreme court re-heard heard oral arguments in the case (now styled Stern v. Marshall, no. 10-179). In this case, the Court was to consider, among other things, whether by enacting 28 U.S.C. § 157(b)(2)(C), Congress can constitutionally authorize non-Article III bankruptcy judges to enter final judgments on all counterclaims to proofs of claim. On June 23, 2011, the United States Supreme court decided the case in a 5-4 decision. The majority of the Court decided Congress cannot constitutionally authorize non-Article III bankruptcy judges to enter final judgments on state law based counterclaims to proofs of claim which are not necessary to resolve the claim itself[9]. The minority opinion expressed the view that such broad powers are necessary to implement legislative intent and authority under Article I and concerns about the reduced efficiency of the bankruptcy courts. This decision effectively ended the case, and let stand the decision that Smith's estate was not entitled to the money that had previously been awarded to her.

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