Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Supreme Court
Stern v. Marshall
This case stemmed from the long-running dispute between Vickie Lynn Marshall and E. Pierce Marshall over the fortune of J. Howard Marshall II, a man believed to have been one of the richest people in Texas. Vickie married J. Howard, Pierce's father, approximately a year before his death. Shortly before J. Howard died, Vickie filed a suit against Pierce in Texas state court asserting that J. Howard meant to provide for Vickie through a trust, and Pierce tortiously interfered with that gift. The litigation worked its way through state and federal courts in Louisiana, Texas, and California, and two of those courts, a Texas state probate court and the Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, reached contrary decisions on its merits. The Court of Appeals subsequently held that the Texas state decision controlled after concluding that the Bankruptcy Court lacked the authority to enter final judgment on a counterclaim that Vickie brought against Pierce in her bankruptcy proceeding. At issue was whether the Bankruptcy Court Judge, who did not enjoy tenure and salary protections pursuant to Article III of the Constitution, had the statutory authority under 28 U.S.C. 157(b) to issue a final judgment on Vickie's counterclaims and, if so, whether conferring that authority on the Bankruptcy Court was constitutional. The Court held that the Bankruptcy Court had the statutory authority to enter judgment on Vickie's counterclaim as a core proceeding under section 157(b)(2)(C). The Court held, however, that the Bankruptcy Court lacked the constitutional authority under Article III to enter final judgment on a state law counterclaim that was not resolved in the process of ruling on a creditor's proof claim. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals was affirmed.
Turner v. Rogers, et al.
This case stemmed from petitioner's civil contempt proceedings where South Carolina's Family Court enforced child support orders against him. At issue was whether the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause required the State to provide counsel at the civil contempt hearing to an indigent person potentially faced with incarceration. The Court held that even though petitioner had completed his 12 month prison sentence, and there were not alleged to be collateral consequences of the contempt determination that might keep the dispute alive, this case was not moot because it was capable of repetition while evading review. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause did not automatically require the State to provide counsel at civil contempt proceedings to an indigent noncustodial parent who was subject to a child support order, even if that individual faced incarceration. In particular, that Clause did not require that counsel be provided where the opposing parent or other custodian was not represented by counsel and the State provided alternative procedural safeguards equivalent to adequate notice of the importance of the ability to pay, a fair opportunity to present, and to dispute, relevant information, and express court findings as to the supporting parent's ability to comply with the support order. Under the circumstances, petitioner's incarceration violated due process because he received neither counsel nor the benefit of alternative procedures like those the Court described. Accordingly, the Court vacated the judgment and remanded for further proceedings.
Camreta v. Greene, et al.; Alford v. Greene, et al.
Nearly a decade ago, petitioners, a state child protective services worker and a county deputy sheriff, interviewed then 9-year-old S.G. at her Oregon elementary school about allegations that her father had sexually abused her. Her father stood trial for that abuse but the jury failed to reach a verdict and the charges were later dismissed. S.G.'s mother subsequently sued petitioners on S.G.'s behalf for damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the in-school interview breached the Fourth Amendment's proscription on unreasonable seizures. The Ninth Circuit held that petitioners' conduct violated the Fourth Amendment but that they were entitled to qualified immunity from damages liability because no clearly established law had warned them of the illegality of the conduct. Although judgment was entered in petitioners' favor, they petitioned the Court to review the Ninth Circuit's ruling that their conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. At issue was whether government officials who prevailed on grounds of qualified immunity could obtain the Court's review of a court of appeals' decision that their conduct violated the Constitution. Also at issue was, if the Court could consider cases in this procedural posture, did the Ninth Circuit correctly determine that this interview breached the Fourth Amendment. The Court held that it could generally review a lower court's constitutional ruling at the behest of a government official granted immunity but could not do so in this case for reasons peculiar to it. The case had become moot because the child had grown up and moved across the country and so would never again be subject to the Oregon in-school interviewing practices whose constitutionality was at issue. Therefore, the Court did not reach the Fourth Amendment question in this case and vacated the part of the Ninth Circuit's opinion that decided the Fourth Amendment issue.