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Marshall v. Marshall - 547 U.S. 293, 126 S. Ct. 1735 (2006)

Rule:

Markham's enigmatic words proscribe disturbing or affecting the possession of property in the custody of a state court. The United States Supreme Court comprehends the "interference" language in Markham as essentially a reiteration of the general principle that, when one court is exercising in rem jurisdiction over a res, a second court will not assume in rem jurisdiction over the same res. Thus, 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. 

Facts:

The decedent, J. Howard Marshall II (J. Howard), Vickie Lynn Marshall (Vickie), a.k.a. Anna Nicole Smith’s husband, did not provide anything for her in his will. While J. Howard’s estate was subject to ongoing proceedings in state probate court, Vickie filed for bankruptcy in federal court. Vickie alleged that J. Howard’s son, E. Pierce Marshall (Pierce), tortiously interfered with a gift she expected from J. Howard. The bankruptcy court and the district court entered judgment in favor of Vickie. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that the probate exception barred federal jurisdiction. 

Issue:

Did Vickie’s counterclaim fall within the bounds of the probate exception?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court determined that the district court properly asserted jurisdiction over the Vickie's counterclaim against Pierce. Vickie's counterclaim fell outside the bounds of the probate exception because (1) the probate exception reserved to state probate courts the probate or annulment of a will and the administration of a decedent's estate and precluded federal courts from endeavoring to dispose of property that was in the custody of a state probate court, (2) Vickie's claim did not involve the administration of an estate, the probate of a will, or any other purely probate matter, and (3) Vickie did not seek to reach a res in the custody of a state court. In addition, the Court rejected the appellate court's finding that state-court delineation of a probate court's exclusive adjudicatory authority could control federal subject-matter jurisdiction.

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