Francis H. S. Ede, Pen Argyl, Smith, Paff, Van Sickle & Gafford, Easton, for appellant.
Lewis R. Long, Bethlehem, for appellee.
Before Rhodes, P. J., and Reno, Dithrich, Ross, Arnold and Gunther, JJ.
[ 168 Pa. Super. Page 422]
In this divorce action, the parties were married on April 9, 1938, and resided together in various parts of Northampton and Lehigh counties until September 5, 1948, when the plaintiff-husband left the marital habitation. On March 21, 1949, he instituted this action for a divorce on the grounds of cruel and barbarous treatment and indignities to the person. The case was referred to a master who, after several hearings, recommended that an absolute divorce be granted on the single ground of indignities. The defendant's exceptions to the master's report were sustained by the court below, the plaintiff's complaint dismissed, and he took this appeal.
[ 168 Pa. Super. Page 423]
The primary issue involved in the case is the credibility of the parties and their witnesses. The master's conclusions on this issue are unequivocal. He reports: 'The testimony of the plaintiff and his witnesses was direct and positive * * * [and] * * * was not shaken on cross-examination. * * * The master observed closely the manner and attitude of the witnesses during the taking of the testimony. He is convinced that the plaintiff and his witnesses are telling the truth.' He also stated that '* * * the manner in which the defendant and her witnesses testified and their demeanor on the witness stand lends strength to this belief.' The weight which an appellate court should accord a master's findings on the question of credibility in a divorce case is crystallized in Smith v. Smith, 157 Pa. Super. 582, at pages 583 to 585, 43 A.2d 371, at page 372 in which Judge Reno stated: 'Although we are not concluded by a master's findings upon credibility, his judgment upon that vital factor is entitled to the fullest consideration, Lyons v. Lyons, 116 Pa. Super. 385, 176 A. 792, and especially in a contested case. Fullwood v. Fullwood, 156 Pa. Super. 409, 40 A.2d 876. He possesses an advantage not granted to us. He sees the parties and their witnesses face to face and observes their appearance and demeanor as they testify. We are restricted to the cold type of the record from which temperament and personality have been subtracted. Yet the demeanor of witnesses is the very touchstone of credibility; in the absence of reactions produced by other applicable tests, the appearance and demeanor of witnesses are the litmus by which the presence of truth is revealed. * * *
'Therefore, unless the transcript reveals a ground upon which the master's finding of credibility can be impeached, we give his conclusion upon that factor, based upon his observance of appearance and demeanor, the fullest consideration, especially when
[ 168 Pa. Super. Page 424]
his report presents a searching analysis of the testimony and indicates that he has given to all the testimony thoughtful deliberation commensurate with the charge. Fulton v. Fulton, 142 Pa. Super. 512, 17 A.2d 222. Of course, even to the printed record we may and do apply the other standard tests of veracity. We sedulously examine and weigh the record to discover inherent improbabilities in the stories of the witnesses, inconsistencies and contradictions, bias and interest, opposition to incontrovertible physical facts, patent falsehood and the other factors by which credibility may be ascertained. But when the record responds favorably to these tests, when the inanimate record as we read it discloses no sound basis for rejecting the master's conclusion founded upon his observation of demeanor and appearance, we are warranted in accepting his findings.'
We have read with care the report of the master against a background of the testimony adduced at the hearings before him and think it clear that his report 'presents a searching analysis of the testimony and indicates that he has given to all the testimony thoughtful deliberation commensurate with the charge.' Further, our independent examination of the record and application thereto of the tests of veracity enumerated in Smith v. Smith, 157 Pa. Super. 582, 43 A.2d 371, supra, serves to substantiate the master's finding with regard to credibility. For example, we find, as did the master, the defendant's categorical denial of the plaintiff's charges irreconcilable with her voluminous attempt to ...