WASHINGTON – The now 4-year-old daughter of the late former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith is not entitled to a share of the $1.6 billion estate of Smith’s elderly Texas husband, the Supreme Court ruled, apparently ending a long legal struggle and leaving the heirs of oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall with his money.
Because the legal battle outlived most of the parties, Chief Justice John Roberts compared the saga to Charles Dickens’ novel “Bleak House,” a tale of the lawsuit that never ends.
Vickie Lynn Marshall, who was better known as Anna Nicole Smith, married the 89-year-old billionaire a year before his death in 1995. Though he had given her many gifts and apparently promised many more, she was not included in his will.
She sued in a Texas probate court, alleging that Marshall’s son Pierce, a prime heir, had conspired to deny her as much as $400 million her late husband had promised her. That case went to trial, and she lost.
She also filed separately for bankruptcy in Los Angeles. In 2000, the bankruptcy judge awarded her $475 million in damages against Pierce Marshall, essentially the amount she had sought from the estate.
Since then, the case has been in the hands of appellate judges.
In a 5-4 decision Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled the bankruptcy judge had overplayed his hand and should not have handed down damages against Pierce Marshall. Roberts said the bankruptcy judge had the authority to resolve Smith’s debts, but not the authority to decide her claims against Marshall.