Appeal from decree of Orphans' Court of Allegheny County, No. 1321 of 1964, in re estate of James Summers, deceased.
Barney Phillips, with him Morton B. DeBroff and Benjamin Jacobson, for appellant.
Meyer Umansky and Stanley Makoroff, for appellees.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Bell joins in this dissenting opinion.
Petitioner, J. I. Simon (Simon), administrator of the estate of James M. Summers (Summers), appeals from a decree of the Orphans' Court of Allegheny County, No. 132- of 1963 refusing and dismissing his petition which prayed that an order be entered directing William Patton (Patton) and/or Hufstader-Cadillac, Inc. (Hufstader) to return one 1963 Cadillac coupe to the estate of Summers or, in the event of its resale, to account for its selling price. The orphans' court found both possession and actual ownership of the Cadillac to be vested in Patton.
The web of events involved in this litigation requires careful scrutiny in view of the bizarre position in which the parties ultimately found themselves.
In 1962, Patton's credit rating was virtually nil both because the United States Government and several creditors had liens filed against him and because a prior car of his had been repossessed. Patton owned a 1961 Chrysler titled in his wife's maiden name, Eva McDaniels, and which, in May, he wanted to trade in for a 1962 Cadillac from Hufstader. After discussing the proposed purchase with a salesman and being advised that, while no sale could be made to him personally, a purchase could be made in the name of a person with a good credit rating, Patton contacted Summers. Summers agreed that the 1962 Cadillac should be purchased
in his name and he would sign the installment sales contract and this was done. The Chrysler was traded in, Summers signed the installment sales contract,*fn1 the balance of the purchase price was financed by the Mellon National Bank and Trust Co. (Mellon Bank) and Patton took possession of the car and made finance payments or supplied the money for finance payments made by Summers to the Mellon Bank.
In June of 1963, Patton again went to Hufstader to purchase a 1963 Cadillac. The 1962 Cadillac was traded in and the balance of the purchase price on the 1963 Cadillac was financed by the Mellon Bank. Both Patton and Summers signed the installment sales contract and, again title was taken in Summers name and, as is standard practice as part of the financing plan, an insurance policy was issued on Summers' life. Again, Patton made the finance payments.
On December 8, 1963, Summers died intestate, survived by his widow, Lulu Summers. The insurance company paid the balance of finance payments on the 1963 Cadillac ($4,246.13) and the Mellon Bank marked the title "Encumbrances satisfied" and on January 3, 1964, mailed it to "James M. Summers: attention of Mrs. Summers".
Thereafter, Patton, knowing the insurance paid off the encumbrance, went to Hufstader to negotiate for the purchase of a 1964 Cadillac. There he was informed that before Hufstader could accept title to the 1963 Cadillac there would have to be an assignment of the certificate of title by whoever was executor of Summers' estate. Thereupon started a series of startling events. ...