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CHRISTOFF ESTATE. (07/02/63)

THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


July 2, 1963

IN RE CHRISTOFF ESTATE.

Appeal, No. 91, March T., 1963, from decree of Orphans' Court of Allegheny County, No. 3617 of 1960, in re estate of Peter Christoff, deceased. Decree affirmed; reargument refused July 20, 1963.

COUNSEL

Michael Alexander, with him Thomas A. Lazaroff, for appellant.

Stephen E. Nash, with him G. Harold Blaxter, Herman S. Harvey, Jr., and Blaxter, O'Neill, Houston & Nash, for appellee.

Before Bell, C.j., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'brien and Roberts, JJ.

Author: Jones

[ 411 Pa. Page 421]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BENJAMIN R. JONES

This is an appeal from a decree of the Orphans' Court of Allegheny County which awarded the entire estate of a Pennsylvania decedent, Peter Christoff, to one Constantin Peter Kouzinakis (Peter), a resident of Greece, on the basis of a decree of adoption rendered by a court of Greece which decree purports to make Peter the adopted son of the decedent.

On August 12, 1960, Peter Christoff (decedent), an American citizen domiciled in Pittsburgh, died unmarried and without natural issue surviving. His last will and testament, dated June 18, 1948, named Constantin D. Cozinacis (Constantin), presently resident in Prague, Czechoslovakia, as the residuary legatee.

Constantin Peter Kouzinakis (Peter) is a grandnephew of decedent and, by the terms of a decree of the Court of First Instance of Edhessa, Greece, dated October 17, 1955, Peter was declared to be the adopted son of the decedent.

At the audit of the decedent's estate before the Orphans' Court of Allegheny County, Peter claimed the

[ 411 Pa. Page 422]

    entire balance for distribution in decedent's estate as an after-adopted child, in accordance with the provisions of Section 7(4) of the Wills Act of 1947, P.L. 89, 20 PS § 180.7. The court below recognized the foreign decree of adoption and decreed that Peter was the adopted son of the decedent and entitled to the award of the entire balance of the estate. From that decree Constantin appeals.

Fundamentally, the issue here is the recognition, if any, to be accorded by the courts of this Commonwealth to the decree of adoption rendered by the court in Greece.

Certain principles are well settled: (a) had Peter come from Greece to Pennsylvania and been adopted in Pennsylvania by the decedent the award of the balance of this estate to him would have been proper; (b) the incidents of adoption as to inheritance as against the status of adoption in another state or country are to be determined by the laws of the decedent's domicile. In Zoell's Estate, 345 Pa. 413, 29 A.2d 31, we held that, while Pennsylvania recognizes the status of an adopted child in another state, the incidents of that status in such other state cannot alter our laws of inheritance and the estate of a decedent domiciled in Pennsylvania is distributable in accordance with our laws of inheritance. A fortiori, such a rule applies when the status of adoption was created by the decree of a foreign country.

Although we must give full faith and credit under the mandate of the United States Constitution to a decree of adoption by a court of a sister state if such court had jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter, judicial decrees rendered in foreign countries depend for recognition in Pennsylvania upon comity: Commonwealth ex rel. v. Yarnell, 313 Pa. 244, 250, 169 A. 370; Commonwealth v. Doughty, 187 Pa. Superior Ct. 499, 506, 144 A.2d 521; Commonwealth ex rel.

[ 411 Pa. Page 423]

    jurisdiction of a foreign tribunal we must ordinarily grant recognition and credit to the decree of such a tribunal unless the decree is so palpably tainted by fraud or prejudice as to outrage our sense of justice or where the process of the foreign tribunal was invoked to achieve a result contrary to our laws or public policy or to circumvent our laws or public policy.

We have carefully reviewed the instant record and from such review we find agreement with the learned court below that the record clearly shows that the decedent desired to bring one of his greek relatives to the United States; that he wished to adopt Peter; that he was advised by counsel that, upon such adoption, the adoptee would become his heir-at-law; that he, nevertheless, proceeded with adoption proceedings in Greece and did all things necessary to procure Peter's adoption as his son in accordance with the requirements of the Greek court; that, subsequent to the rendition of the decree of adoption, he made a sworn petition to the United States immigration authorities for the issuance of an immigrant visa to Peter giving Peter's relationship to him as "adopted son". Our examination of the record further impels us to agree with the court below that the procedure and findings of the Greek court were in accordance with Greek law and the weight of judicial authority in Greece; that the incidents of adoption in Greece are not so dissimilar from those attendant upon adoption here as to bring into play against its recognition "a positive, well-defined, universal public sentiment, deeply integrated in the customs and beliefs of the people [of this Commonwealth] and in their conviction of what is just and right and in the interests of the public weal" (Mamlin v. Genoe, 340 Pa. 320, 325, 17 A.2d 407); that if there was fraud or mistake, and we are convinced there was not, in the procurement of the decree, it was not occasioned by Peter or his family; that the decedent

[ 411 Pa. Page 425]

    effectively consented to the jurisdiction of the Greek court which had jurisdiction of the subject matter (Restatement (2d), Conflict of Laws, Tentative Draft No. 3, § 81; Ibid, Tentative Draft No. 4, § 142; McQuiston's Adoption, 238 Pa. 304, 312, 86 A. 205).

We are convinced of the validity of the decree of the Greek court whereby Peter acquired the status of an adopted son of the decedent and that, on the principles of comity, we should grant recognition to this decree. Peter, having acquired the status of an adopted son, the incidents of inheritance attaching to such status in Pennsylvania must govern Peter's claim in this estate.

Disposition

Decree affirmed. Costs to be paid by estate.

19630702

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