Stern v. Marshall

Stern v. Marshall, 564 U.S. 462 (2011), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that a bankruptcy court, as a non-Article III court (i.e. courts without full judicial independence) lacked constitutional authority under Article III of the United States Constitution to enter a final judgment on a state law counterclaim that is not resolved in the process of ruling on a creditor's proof of claim, even though Congress purported to grant such statutory authority under 28 U.S.C. § 157(b)2(C). The case drew an unusual amount of interest because the petitioner was the estate of former Playboy Playmate and celebrity Anna Nicole Smith (whose legal name was Vickie Lynn Marshall). Smith died in 2007, long before the Court ultimately decided the case, which her estate lost.

Stern v. Marshall
Argued January 18, 2011
Decided June 23, 2011
Full case nameHoward K. Stern, Executor of the Estate of Vickie Lynn Marshall, Petitioner v. Elaine T. Marshall, Executrix of the Estate of E. Pierce Marshall
Docket no.10-179
Citations564 U.S. 462 (more)
131 S. Ct. 2594; 180 L. Ed. 2d 475; 2011 U.S. LEXIS 4791; 79 U.S.L.W. 4564; Bankr. L. Rep. (CCH) ¶ 82,032; 65 Collier Bankr. Cas. 2d (MB) 827; 55 Bankr. Ct. Dec. 1; 22 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 1232
Case history
PriorMarshall v. Marshall (In re Marshall) 253 B.R. 550 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2001); affirmed in part, vacated and remanded, 264 B.R. 609 (C.D. Cal. 2000); 275 B.R. 5 (C.D. Cal. 2002); reversed and remanded with instructions 600 F.3d 1037 (9th Cir. 2010); cert. granted, 131 S. Ct. 2594 (2011)
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court lacked the constitutional authority to enter a final judgment on a state law counterclaim that is not resolved in the process of ruling on a creditor’s proof of claim, even though they are granted statutory authority under 28 U.S.C. §157 (b)2(C). Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Case opinions
MajorityRoberts, joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito
DissentBreyer, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan
Laws applied
28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C. § 1334, 28 U.S.C. § 157


Playboy Playmate and celebrity Anna Nicole Smith married wealthy 89-year-old oil magnate J. Howard Marshall, and he died 14 months later, in 1995. When it appeared she had been excluded from his estate, she sued in Texas state probate court, sparking a long and acrimonious series of litigations between herself and Marshall's son E. Pierce Marshall. At one point, a federal district court determined that Smith was owed $88 million from the estate, while the state probate court determined that she was not owed any such substantial sum. The U.S. Supreme Court determined that the federal district court had jurisdiction to rule on the award in Marshall v. Marshall (2006).

The case was sent back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to decide other remaining issues. On March 19, 2010, the same three-judge panel found in favor of E. Pierce Marshall holding that the bankruptcy court did not have the authority to decide the case, and, because the California federal district court should not have reviewed matters previously decided in the Texas probate court, the $88 million judgment for Smith was void.[1][2] 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.[3] On September 28, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court again agreed to hear the case.[4]

Article III, § 1 of the Constitution vests "[t]he judicial power of the United States" in life-tenured and salary-protected judges, who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Non-Article III bankruptcy judges may not exercise the general judicial power of the United States and therefore may not finally resolve controversies that are not within the core Article I bankruptcy power Congress relied upon in creating the current system of bankruptcy jurisdiction. In Northern Pipeline Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., 458 U.S. 50 (1982), a fractured plurality of the Court held that Article I bankruptcy courts could not constitutionally hear a state law breach of contract claim when the debtor was the plaintiff. The main question presented in Stern v. Marshall was whether a bankruptcy court could constitutionally enter a final judgment on an otherwise non-core tort cause of action asserted as a compulsory counterclaim to a creditor's nondischargeability complaint and proof of claim against the debtor.[5] When the matter came before the 9th Circuit appellate court, it rendered the District Court's decision invalid on preclusion grounds since the Bankruptcy Court's decision was non-core.

The Obama administration and the Executive Office of the United States Trustee, which wanted to expand bankruptcy jurisdiction in state law matters, instructed the United States Solicitor General to submit a brief on the side of the petitioner.

Questions presentedEdit

  1. Whether the Ninth Circuit opinion, which renders §157(b)(2)(C) surplusage[clarification needed] in light of §157(b)(2)(B), contravenes Congress's intent in enacting §157(b)(2)(C).
  2. Whether Congress may, under Articles I and III, constitutionally authorize core jurisdiction over debtors' compulsory counterclaims to proofs of claim.
  3. Whether the Ninth Circuit misapplied Marathon and Katchen and contravened the Court's post-Marathon precedent, creating a circuit split in the process, by holding that Congress cannot constitutionally authorize non-Article III bankruptcy judges to enter final judgment on all compulsory counterclaims to proofs of claim.

Opinion of the CourtEdit

On June 23, 2011, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case (now styled Stern v. Marshall, no. 10-179). The majority of the Court held Congress cannot constitutionally authorize non-Article III bankruptcy judges to enter a final judgment on a state law counterclaim that is not resolved in the process of ruling on a creditor’s proof of claim. The four dissenting judges were of the opinion 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.

Broader contextEdit

The length of the proceedings led the Chief Justice to compare it to the infamous fictional lawsuit Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Charles Dickens's novel Bleak House, which dragged on for over a century and brought nothing but ruin to the parties. This dispute started around 1996, E. Pierce Marshall died in 2006 about a month after the Marshall v. Marshall decision, and Anna Nicole Smith died in 2007. This did not stop the litigation though, as E. Pierce Marshall's widow Elaine and Smith's executor Howard K. Stern (not to be confused with the radio personality) continued fighting. Stern v. Marshall finally ruled against Smith's estate. However, as of 2017, some more of J. Howard Marshall's heirs are still arguing the estate in probate court, 22 years after his death, prompting the presiding judge to recuse himself from exhaustion with the case.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Marshall v. Marshall 9th Circuit Second Opinion on Remand" (PDF). 2010-03-19. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ In re Marshall, 600 F.3d 1037 (9th Cir. 2010).
  3. ^ "Court won't reconsider Anna Nicole Smith ruling". 2010-05-06. Retrieved 2010-08-11.
  4. ^ "US top court to hear Anna Nicole Smith fortune case". WNCF-TV News. AFP. 2010-09-28. Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  5. ^ "The Supreme Court's Holding in Stern v. Marshall". Lexis. 2011-07-18.
  6. ^ "Judge in Decades Old Anna Nicole Smith Case Announces He's Had Enough". Forbes.

External linksEdit