December 28, 2005

The SCOTUS Side of Anna Nicole Smith

by PG

Texas probate law is getting more national attention than usual these days. The New York Times reports on a case in which an elderly woman worth many millions is in a tug-of-war between her daughter and the Texas courts, and her son and New Jersey's judiciary. "Saying that only a federal court can bridge the competing jurisdictions, Mark Glasser filed a civil action this month against his sister in Federal District Court in San Antonio, blocking a scheduled trial before [Texas probate] Judge Spencer." This removal to federal court is likely to be contested, however, and the law on such matters appears to be unclear. While there is a general federal jurisdiction for diversity of state citizenship, it might be overridden by respect for the probate law of the state in which proceedings began.

As several news outlets noted, Solicitor General Paul Clement has filed a brief for Anna Nicole Smith's argument before the Supreme Court that federal courts should be able to have jurisdiction over state probate proceedings. Smith lost to her step-son in a Texas probate court, but got $474 million from a federal bankruptcy judge when she filed for bankruptcy in California and her son-in-law made the mistake of claiming that she owed him money, which allowed Smith to counter-claim and the bankruptcy judge to enrich her. This was then reduced to $88.5 million by a district judge, and then invalidated altogether by a 9th Circuit panel on the ground that this was a matter only for the state courts. I'm inclined to agree with the Volokh commenter who predicted that the Court (especially if O'Connor, the Avenging Goddess of Federalism, remains that long) will want to make a probate exception to the federal courts' general bankruptcy jurisdiction.

However, the Times story about the possibly incompetent elderly woman and her battling children might strike observers as less "frivolous" and thus less of a waste of time than Smith's case, though some of the legal issues are similar.

December 28, 2005 02:33 AM | TrackBack

Apparently the Solicitor General's office has even bigger boobs than Anne Nicole Smith.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at December 28, 2005 06:47 AM
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