On Thursday, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ruled in Stern v. Marshall that the congressional grant of jurisdiction to bankruptcy courts to issue final judgments on counterclaims to proofs of claim was unconstitutional. For the litigants, this decision brought an end to an expensive and drawn out litigation between the estates of former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith and the son of her late husband, Pierce Marshall, which Justice Roberts writing for the majority analogized to the fictional litigation in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.
For bankruptcy practitioners, it is yet another chapter in an even more epic saga – that of the back-and-forth between Congress and the Supreme Court over the jurisdictional limits of the nation’s bankruptcy courts. Instead of offering finality, the decision only raises more questions about how far the Court’s reasoning will extend, and what the implications will be for practice under the Bankruptcy Code.
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