“Unfortunately, Stern v. Marshall has become the mantra of every litigant who, for strategic or tactical reasons, would rather litigate somewhere other than the bankruptcy court.”
Quite aptly, the United States Supreme Court borrowed the words of Charles Dickens to describe the life of the case that ultimately resulted in Stern v. Marshall : “This suit has, in the curse of time, become so complicated, that . . . no two . . . lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises.’” Ironically, even after the Court’s decision, the “curse” has continued and many, especially those of the bankruptcy bar, are in disagreement as to the ultimate outcome and unforeseen consequences of Stern.
The “big fuss” arose out of the Court’s holding that bankruptcy courts do not have constitutional authority to enter final judgment on a state law counterclaim “that is not resolved in the process of ruling on a creditor’s proof of claim.” The Court stated that common law claims, as well as suits in equity and admiralty, fall within the province of Article III courts, and Congress cannot “chip away at the authority of the judicial branch” by enacting statutes delegating such power to non-Article III judges. The Constitution grants judicial power to courts whose judges enjoy tenure during good behavior and salary protections.
Article III provisions are safeguards against intrusion by other branches of government and they ensure that judicial decisions are being made with “[c]lear heads . . . and honest hearts.” A different outcome would have been likely if the case involved a ‘public right’ because the Court has recognized that Congress has the authority to adjudicate in suits involving that exception. The public rights exception applies in cases where a “right is integrally related to particular federal government action.”
Other than the obvious limiting effect that Stern will have on bankruptcy courts with regards to adjudicating common law claims...