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COMMONWEALTH v. WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY (06/29/60)

June 29, 1960

COMMONWEALTH
v.
WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 18, May T., 1960, from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, No. 236 Commonwealth Docket, 1953, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, by Sidney Gottlieb, Escheator, v. The Western Union Telegraph Company. Decree affirmed.

COUNSEL

Rex Rowland, with him James D. Morton, John H. Waters, and Buchanan, Ingersoll, Rodewald, Kyle & Buerger, for appellant.

Robert A. Enders, with him Michael Edelman, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Before Jones, C.j., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Bok and Eagen, JJ.

Author: Musmanno

[ 400 Pa. Page 338]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO.

The Western Union Telegraph Company, which is a New York corporation, operates in Pennsylvania, as it does in all States of the Union. In the course of its business it collects money for transmission to other places by means of telegraphic money orders, that is to say, a sender deposits so much money at the sending office and the Western Union telegraphs to the office geographically closest to the address of the payee an order to pay the payee the amount specified by the payor. It sometimes occurs, however, because of the uncertainties of life, with its untoward happenings including accidents, earthquakes, fires, sudden removals, and even death, that the designated payee never gets the money telegraphed to him, in which event the sending Western Union office is so notified and it then pays the money back to the original depositor.

But unexpected happenings transpire even at the sender's end and, as a result of accident, earthquake, fire, or even death, the Western Union sending office is thus unable to return the money it had accepted for transmission. What happens to this money after sufficient time has elapsed to warrant the assumption that the sender will never turn up to collect back his money? The Western Union Telegraph Company answers this

[ 400 Pa. Page 339]

    question with the flat statement that it is entitled to the money.

If there were no declared law on the subject, some color of right would attach to the Western Union's claims because, in the absence of an established potentially-collecting owner, the possessor of property, through discovery, finding or otherwise, obviously can hold it against the world. However, there is no vacuum in the law for a situation of this kind. The Legislature of Pennsylvania has specifically provided that:

"(b) Whensoever the owner, beneficial owner of, or person entitled to any real or personal property within or subject to the control of the Commonwealth or the whereabouts of such owner, beneficial owner or person entitled, has been or shall be and remain unknown for the period of seven successive years, such real or personal property, together with the rents, profits, accretions and interest thereof or thereon, shall escheat to the Commonwealth.

"(c) Whensoever any real or personal property within or subject to the control of the Commonwealth has been or shall be and remain unclaimed for the period of seven successive years, such real or personal property, together with the rents, profits, accretions and interest thereof or thereon, shall escheat to the Commonwealth." (Escheat Act of 1889, May 2, 1889, P.L. 66, § 3) as amended by the Act of 1953, July 29, P.L. 986, § 1 (27 P.S. § 333).

Proceeding under this statute, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, through its Secretary of Revenue, appointed Sidney Gottlieb, Esq., of Pittsburgh, as Escheator to collect outstanding sums such as those involved in this case. Accordingly, on December 21, 1953, Mr. Gottlieb filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County a ...


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