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Supreme Court rules for Anna Nicole Smith in probate jurisdiction dispute

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled Monday in Marshall v. Marshall [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], 04-1544, that federal courts can in some cases decide disputes which involve state probate laws. In overturning a decision [PDF text] from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Court handed a victory to model Anna Nicole Smith (Vickie Lynn Marshall) in her attempt to gain half of the estate left by her late husband J. Howard Marshall II [profile], an oil magnate many years older than she was who had been an assistant dean at Yale Law School in the early 1930s. In a continuing dispute between Smith and the adult son of her late husband in the wake of a 2001 Texas probate ruling [text] which awarded Smith nothing, Smith won a favorable judgment from a federal bankruptcy court for $475 million, but the son challenged that decision, arguing that the federal court lacked jurisdiction to decide the case because the dispute involved state probate issues.

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Ginsburg said that:

the probate exception reserves to state probate courts the probate or annulment of a will and the administration of a decedent's estate; it also precludes federal courts from endeavoring to dispose of property that is in the custody of a state probate court. But it does not bar federal courts from adjudicating matters outside those confines and otherwise within federal jurisdiction.
Read the Court's unanimous opinion [text], per Justice Ginsburg, along with a concurrence [text] from Justice Stevens. AP has more.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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