Supreme Court rules against Anna Nicole Smith estate

WASHINGTON Thu Jun 23, 2011 2:13pm EDT

Anna Nicole Smith arrives with her lawyer Howard Stern for her hearing at the Supreme Court in Washington February 28, 2006. REUTERS/Chris Kleponis

Anna Nicole Smith arrives with her lawyer Howard Stern for her hearing at the Supreme Court in Washington February 28, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Chris Kleponis

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday against Anna Nicole Smith's estate, bringing to an apparent end a long legal battle the former Playboy model, who died in 2007, had waged to get part of the fortune left by her late Texas oil baron husband.

It marked the second time the U.S. high court has ruled in the dispute involving the former topless dancer and Texas billionaire J. Howard Marshall, whom Smith married in 1994 when she was 26 and he was 89.

The Supreme Court in 2006 gave Smith another chance to try to collect the hundreds of millions of dollars she said that her late husband had promised her before his death after 14 months of marriage.

Smith's 4-year-old daughter and sole heir, Dannielynn Birkhead, would have benefited if the latest ruling had gone the other way.

In the decision, the justices by a 5-4 vote upheld a U.S. appeals court ruling that Smith's estate could get none of the $300 million that she had sought.

The ruling was a victory for the estate of Pierce Marshall, the son of the Texas oil tycoon who was worth an estimated $1.6 billion.

The Marshall family said the ruling "will finally put an end to a frivolous lawsuit based on fabricated claims."

It said J. Howard Marshall had the right to leave his money to those people and institutions that he wanted to benefit. "We are pleased that this issue has finally been put to rest," the family said in a statement.

Pierce Marshall died in 2006. Smith died of a drug overdose the next year and was survived by her infant daughter. Smith's onetime lawyer and boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, is the executor of her estate.

Dannielynn Birkhead is being raised by Larry Birkhead, another former boyfriend, who sued to prove his paternity after Stern was originally listed as the father on her birth certificate.

Marshall's will left nearly all his money to his son and nothing to Smith. She challenged the will in probate court in Texas and later claimed in federal bankruptcy court in Los Angeles that her husband had promised her a large share of his estate.

The Supreme Court's majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the federal bankruptcy court did not have the constitutional authority to enter judgment in favor of Smith's claims.

The Obama administration had supported Smith's estate.

The court's four liberal justices dissented in the case, which is Stern v. Marshall, No. 10-179.

(Reporting by James Vicini; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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