U.S. top court to hear Anna Nicole Smith estate case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Tuesday that it would decide whether Anna Nicole Smith’s estate should get part of the fortune that the former Playboy model, who died in 2007, sought from her late Texas oil baron husband.

Howard K. Stern sits with Anna Nicole Smith as they watch a boxing match at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida in this January 6, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Hans Deryk/Files

It marked the second time the nation’s highest court has agreed to consider the long-running legal battle 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 millions of dollars she said that her late husband had promised her before his death after 14 months of marriage.

But a U.S. appeals court in California ruled in March that Smith’s estate could get none of the $300 million (189 million pounds) that she had sought. It was a victory for the estate of Pierce Marshall, the son of the Texas oil tycoon who was worth an estimated $1.6 billion.

Pierce Marshall died in 2006. Smith died of a drug overdose in 2007 and was survived by her infant daughter. Smith’s onetime lawyer and boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, is serving as executor of her estate.

Smith’s 4-year-old daughter, Dannielynn Birkhead, would stand to benefit if the court rules for Smith’s estate. Dannielynn is being raised by Larry Birkhead, who sued to prove his paternity after Stern was originally listed as the father on her birth certificate.

Stern and two of Smith’s doctors are currently on trial in Los Angeles, accused of giving her prescription drugs before her death.

All three defendants have pleaded not guilty. Both the prosecution and the defence have rested their cases and the judge is considering whether to dismiss some of the charges.

Marshall’s will left nearly all his money to his son and nothing to Smith. Smith challenged the will and claimed that her husband had promised her more than $300 million.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case early next year, with a decision likely by June.

The earlier Supreme Court ruling only addressed whether federal courts can decide the Smith’s claims, not the merits of her arguments that she should get the money.

The issue for the Supreme Court in the latest appeal involved whether the appeals court in its ruling improperly limited the power of federal bankruptcy judges in considering such claims.

Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by Cynthia Osterman