This article previews the issues and arguments presented in Marshall v. Marshall, a case on the Court’s 2005-06 docket. The basic issue presented in Marshall v. Marshall asks the Court to determine whether federal courts should continue to recognize and apply the probate exception to federal court jurisdiction. If the Court determines that the probate exception does have continuing validity, then the Court has been asked to determine the applicable scope of the doctrine and whether there are instances in which federal courts may hear some types of cases that relate to probate. Finally the Court is asked whether the probate exception applies only to cases within the federal courts' diversity jurisdiction or whether the doctrine also applies within the federal courts' bankruptcy jurisdiction.
The primary issue that the Court will address focuses on the scope of the probate exception to federal jurisdiction. Did Congress intend the probate exception to apply where a federal court is not asked to probate a will, administer an estate, or otherwise assume control of property in the custody of a state probate court? Did Congress intend the probate exception to apply to cases arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States (28 U.S.C. § 1331), including the Bankruptcy Code (28 U.S.C. § 1334), or is it limited to cases in which jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship? Did Congress intend the probate exception to apply to cases arising out of trusts, or is it limited to cases involving wills?
Without doubt, Marshall v.Marshall is destined to receive more media attention and notoriety than most compelling legal appeals before the Court, arising as it does out of a truly transfixing Texas soap opera involving an 89-year-old billionaire, a 26-year-old female adult club entertainer, a 14-month marriage, a Texas-sized fortune, and a disgruntled adult heir. Never has a case been argued to the Court in which 200 million people in the United States, and countless millions around the world, know the underlying facts.
The core concerns in Marshall v. Marshall address the broad issues of who should have access to federal courts and for what types of matters. The appeal implicates questions of federalism and deference to state court systems to adjudicate purely local concerns. It also implicates policy questions concerning artful pleading to evade established constraints on federal court jurisdiction. Notwithstanding these lofty constitutional questions, without a doubt everyone will be watching to see whether the Supreme Court allows Anna Nicole to take her $449 million Texas estate.
Linda S. Mullenix, Should Federal Courts Continue to Apply the "Probate Exception" to Federal Jurisdiction?, 5 Preview of the United States Supreme Court Cases 274 (Feb. 21, 2006).