The Roberts Court (2005–present)


In what decision did the Roberts Court consider a claim by a famous celebrity involving wills and estates?

The Roberts Court ruled in Marshall v. Marshall (2006) that Vickie Lynn Marshall, better known to the world as former Playmate model Anna Nicole Smith, had a right to file a tort claim in federal court against her late husband’s son, E. Pierce Marshall. The case involved a dispute over the estate of nanogenarian J. Howard Marshall, who married the much-younger Smith in 1994. When J. Howard Marshall died in 1995, his son and Smith battled over whether Smith should receive substantial monies from his estate. Pierce and Smith sued each other. Smith sued Pierce for interfering with a gift that had been given to her from her late husband. A federal district court in California awarded her more than $400 million in damages. On appeal, a federal appeals court reversed, finding that proper jurisdiction was held by the Texas probate court under the so-called “probate exception.” The issue before the U.S. Supreme Court concerned whether a federal court in California (where Smith had filed bankruptcy) had jurisdiction to hear Smith’s suit or whether sole jurisdiction rested with the Texas probate court. The Supreme Court ruled that the federal court in California had jurisdiction to hear Smith’s claim.

The case is currently on hold following the sudden deaths of both E. Pierce Marshall and Anna Nicole Smith. Marshall died of an aggressive infection in June 2006 and Smith died of an accidental drug overdose in February 2007. Some speculate that much of the estate that was the subject of this protracted litigation will pass to Smith’s infant daughter, who was the only surviving Smith heir, following the untimely death of Smith’s 20-year-old son, Daniel, in September 2006.


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