Appeals from decrees of Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Sept. T., 1972, Nos. 71-7453 and 71-12116, in case of L. Francis Murphy and Robert E. Slota, individually and as co-partners t/a Murphy & Slota v. Thomas J. Burke, James S. Kilpatrick, Jr. and Ralph L. Hose, individually and t/a Haws & Burke and Haws & Burke.
Bernard V. DiGiacomo, for appellants.
Harold W. Spencer, with him Wright, Spencer, Manning & Sagendorph, for appellees.
Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Pomeroy.
The appellants, L. Francis Murphy and Robert E. Slota, are attorneys and members of the Bar of Montgomery County. They brought an action in equity against the Norristown, Pennsylvania law firm of Haws & Burke, a professional corporation, and against Thomas J. Burke, James S. Kilpatrick, Jr. and Ralph L. Hose, the three lawyers practicing in that firm. In their complaint plaintiffs recited that "for some period up until June of 1971, [they] were associated with the individual defendants in the practice of law" and that "plaintiffs are entitled to the possession of all the files, both active and closed, of the clients who have personally retained plaintiffs or either or both of them or who regard either or both of them as their own attorneys." Consequently, plaintiffs prayed, inter alia, that the defendants be directed to deliver all files of clients listed
in an appendix of the complaint. Defendants denied that Messrs. Murphy and Slota were associated with the firm of Haws & Burke in any capacity other than as employees. The appellants thereafter filed a companion*fn1 suit in which they alleged alternatively (a) that they had been general partners of the firms of Haws & Burke either pursuant to an express oral agreement or pursuant to an agreement to be implied from the conduct of the parties or pursuant to a partnership the existence of which the named individual defendants were estopped to deny; (b) that they had been shareholders in the professional corporation of Haws & Burke; or (c) that they had been mere employees but were entitled under an employment agreement to certain unpaid monies. In the event plaintiffs were to be found general partners or shareholders, they demanded a distribution of the assets of the firm. The two complaints were consolidated for trial.
After eight days of testimony, the chancellor*fn2 found that both Murphy and Slota were employees of Haws & Burke at all times, that they had agreed to devote their sole efforts to the affairs of that firm, and hence were entitled neither to a distribution of that corporation's
assets nor to possession of its business records.*fn3 Extensive exceptions by plaintiffs to the chancellor's adjudication were dismissed by a unanimous court en banc and the two decrees denying relief were made final. This appeal followed.
Appellants urge that the decrees below must be reversed because the chancellor erred in applying the law of partnerships*fn4 and so ...