The estate of the late actress and model Anna Nicole Smith lost a round in a federal appeals court in San Francisco today in a bid to inherit millions of dollars from her late husband.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal courts must honor a decision in which a probate court in Texas found that Smith’s late husband, oil magnate J. Howard Marshall, didn’t intend to leave her any money.
Smith, who died of a drug overdose in 2007, married Marshall in Houston in 1994, when she was 26 and he was 89. He died 14 months later.
Smith’s heir is her daughter, 3-year-old Dannielynn Birkhead.
Marshall had given Smith $6 million in gifts but didn’t make additional provisions for her in his will. Smith claimed that Marshall’s son, Pierce Marshall, improperly influenced him.
A Texas probate court ruled against Smith after a five-month jury trial.
But Smith raised the issue again in a federal bankruptcy court in Los Angeles after she filed for bankruptcy in 1996. A bankruptcy judge awarded her $450 million, later reduced by a federal district judge to $88 million.
In today’s ruling, the federal appeals court said the Texas probate court decision should be treated as the conclusive ruling in the dispute because “it is the earliest final judgment on matters relevant to this proceeding.”
Pierce Marshall died in 2006, but his widow, Elaine Marshall, continued defending Howard Marshall’s will on behalf of Pierce Marshall’s estate.
Elaine Marshall’s attorney, Eric Brunstad, said, “We’re very happy with the opinion. We’re hoping this is the end of the road.”
Brunstad said, “It’s a well-established principle that once you have had a full and fair trial, you don’t get to retry it in a different place.”
The decision could be appealed to an expanded 11-judge panel of the appeals court and to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A lawyer for Smith’s estate was not immediately available for comment.