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BARRETT v. HEINER (05/21/51)

THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


May 21, 1951

BARRETT, APPELLANT,
v.
HEINER

Appeal, No. 57, Jan. T., 1951, from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Sept. T., 1948, in Equity, No. 13, in case of Patrick L. Barrett v. Alyce Heiner et vir. Decree affirmed.

COUNSEL

Will Leach, with him Leach & Lenahan, for appellant.

David J. Conroy, with him James W. Scanlon, for appellees.

Before Stern, Stearne, Jones, Bell, Ladner and Chidsey, JJ.

Author: Bell

[ 367 Pa. Page 511]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BELL

Plaintiff filed a bill in equity against his niece, Alyce Heiner, and her husband praying that they reconvey to him the property, 1406 Prospect Avenue, Scranton, Pa., which he had shortly prior thereto conveyed to them and that they pay him reasonable compensation for rent of said property.

The court found that no confidential relationship existed between plaintiff and defendant; that the conveyance of the property was not induced by defendants but was the free, voluntary and clearly understood act of the plaintiff; and that the defendant paid a fair price for the property. From a decree dismissing the bill of complaint, plaintiff has taken this appeal.

[ 367 Pa. Page 5121406]

Prospect Avenue was purchased by plaintiff's brother, Thomas Barrett, for $2500 in 1930. Shortly thereafter defendants and their two sons moved into the property under an agreement to provide a home for Thomas Barrett. Defendants paid no rent, except for six months in 1940 when Thomas. Barrett left the property as a result of an altercation.

Plaintiff was a civil service employee of the Federal Government and in the later years of his service was stationed in Cuba. During and prior to that time he sent money to defendant, Alyce Heiner, to keep for him. These remittances totaled $3937. On September 10, 1945, plaintiff bought the Prospect Avenue property from his brother for $2500. The purchase price was, at plaintiff's direction and on his behalf, paid by Alyce out of the $3937 he had sent her. The balance of approximately $1400 was paid to plaintiff by Alyce in April 1947. Plaintiff had demanded, received and kept an exact account of the amounts due him over the years from Alyce for money which plaintiff sent her, less the cost of medicine and other necessities which Alyce purchased for plaintiff. Plaintiff became ill and returned to his home in October 1946; and from that time until February 1948, Alyce took care of him (except for one month when he was a patient in Jefferson Hospital, in Philadelphia).

For several years prior to February 1948, plaintiff repeatedly told Alyce and others that he was holding the property, 1406 Prospect Avenue, for her, and that any repairs or improvements she and her husband might make would be for their own benefit; that he wanted no rent for the property, but wished them to pay the taxes, which they did. In the first part of February 1948 plaintiff, unaccompanied, went to the offices of an attorney, Mr. Leo Rafferty, for the purpose of having him draw a will, devising the property

[ 367 Pa. Page 513]

    had created an express parol trust of real estate it would have been void: Gray v. Leibert, 357 Pa. 130, 53 A.2d 132.

Plaintiff correctly and at great length sets forth the law with respect to a confidential relationship and the duty that arises when such relationship exists. It is unnecessary to discuss or review the authorities on the subject of confidential relationship, since we are convinced that under the facts no confidential relationship was established; and that even if it had been, the defendants fulfilled any obligation they might have had by proving that the deed was the free and voluntary act of the plaintiff, that it was not induced by the defendants, and that the plaintiff knew the nature, meaning, significance and consequences of his act: Kees v. Green, 365 Pa. 368, 75 A.2d 602; McCown v. Fraser, 327 Pa. 561, 192 A. 674; Matthaei v. Pownall, 235 Pa. 460, 84 A. 444.

Plaintiff also complains of the chancellor's findings and conclusions. It is, by now, hornbook law that findings of fact by a chancellor who saw and heard the witnesses, especially when approved by the court in banc, will not be reversed by an appellate court if there is adequate evidence to sustain them: Roth v. Hartl, 365 Pa. 428, 75 A.2d 583; Kees v. Green, 365 Pa. 368, 75 A.2d 602. The chancellor's findings of fact were supported by adequate evidence in this case and therefore they will not be disturbed.

While conclusions of a chancellor are always reviewable upon appeal when they are merely inferences or deductions from findings of fact: Payne v. Winters, 366 Pa. 299, 77 A.2d 407; Nooman Estate, 361 Pa. 26, 30, 63 A.2d 80; we agree with the chancellor's conclusions of law that no confidential relationship or express or resulting or constructive trust was established.

Decree affirmed at cost of appellant.

Disposition

Decree affirmed at cost of appellant.


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