Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, May 1, 2006

Marshall v. Marshall (Anna Nicole Smith Case) Supreme Court Opinion Now Available

Here is the link to the United States Supreme Court opinion in Marshall v. Marshall.

Here are some excerpts from the case:

In Cohens v. Virginia, Chief Justice Marshall famously cautioned: "It is most true that this Court will not take jurisdiction if it should not: but it is equally true, that it must take jurisdiction, if it should . . . . We have no more right to decline the exercise of jurisdiction which is given,than to usurp that which is not given." 6 Wheat. 264, 404 (1821). Among longstanding limitations on federal jurisdiction otherwise properly exercised are the so-called "domestic relations" and "probate" exceptions. Neither is compelled by the text of the Constitution or federal statute. Both are judicially created doctrines stemming in large measure from misty understandings of English legal history. * * * In the years following Marshall’s 1821 pronouncement, courts have sometimes lost sight of his admonition and have rendered decisions expansively interpreting the two exceptions. In Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U. S. 689 (1992), this Court reined in the "domestic relations exception." Earlier, in Markham v. Allen, 326 U. S. 490 (1946), the Court endeavored similarly to curtail the "probate exception."

Nevertheless, the Ninth Circuit in the instant case read the probate exception broadly to exclude from the federal courts’ adjudicatory authority "not only direct challenges to a will or trust, but also questions which would ordinarily be decided by a probate court in determining the validity of the decedent’s estate planning instrument." * * *  The Court of Appeals further held that a State’s vesting of exclusive jurisdiction over probate matters in a special court strips federal courts of jurisdiction to entertain any "probate related matter,"including claims respecting "tax liability, debt, gift, [or] tort." Id., at 1136. We hold that the Ninth Circuit had no warrant from Congress, or from decisions of this Court, for its sweeping extension of the probate exception.


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