LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that the estate of late model Anna Nicole Smith was not entitled to one cent of the more than $300 million she sought from the estate of her billionaire oil baron husband.
In the latest twist in a 15-year battle over the estimated $1.6 billion fortune left by Texan J. Howard Marshall, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with his late son, Pierce.
The ruling means that Smith’s only surviving heir, her 3-year-old daughter Danielyn, will get nothing, lawyers for Marshall said.
“It is an instruction that the case is over, and that E. Pierce Marshall’s estate wins. Hopefully, this will be the end of it,” Eric Brunstad, who represented the Marshall estate, told Reuters.
Smith married oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall in 1994 when she was a 26-year-old topless dancer in Houston and he was 89.
Marshall died a little over a year later, triggering a bitter battle over his fortune between the former Playboy model and his son, Pierce, who died in 2006. Wrangling over the inheritance played out in Texas and California and also reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006.
Smith died of a drug overdose in 2007 and was survived by Danielyn, who was fathered by photographer Larry Birkhead. Smith’s son Daniel from her first marriage died at age 20 in 2006 of a drug overdose. Neither Birkhead nor a lawyer for him could immediately be reached for comment.
In previous hearings, Smith had argued that her husband promised her more than $300 million after his death, and that Pierce Marshall had interfered with her husband’s wishes.
But the son said the $7 million in gifts Smith received during the marriage was all his father wanted her to get.
Friday’s ruling said that federal courts must honor a 2001 decision by a probate court in Texas that found that Marshall did not intend to leave Smith any money after his death.
Brunstad said Smith’s estate could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but he hoped the case was now closed.
“The family’s position all along is that they have just been trying to vindicate J. Howard Marshall’s wishes and to clear Pierce’s name. Our position has always been that Pierce ... was just trying to follow his father’s intentions,” Brunstad said.
Pierce Marshall’s widow, Elaine, continued defending Howard Marshall’s will on behalf of her late husband’s estate, and the Marshall family said Friday’s ruling vindicated their efforts.
“The lies that were told about E. Pierce Marshall have finally been put to rest,” the family said in a statement. “Pierce Marshall was never intimidated by Anna Nicole and her bevy of contingency fee lawyers’ use of her celebrity and the legal system to try to loot J. Howard’s estate.”
Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte and Jill Serjeant; Editing by Eric Beech