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DOWNING ESTATE (12/05/74)

decided: December 5, 1974.

DOWNING ESTATE


Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Westmoreland County, July T., 1954, No. 136, in re estate of Alfred Downing, an incompetent.

COUNSEL

John M. Duff, Deputy Attorney General, with him Donetta W. Ambrose, Assistant Attorney General, and Israel Packel, Attorney General, for appellant.

Christ. C. Walthour, Jr., with him Kunkle, Walthour and Garland, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Justice Pomeroy and Mr. Justice Manderino join in this dissenting opinion.

Author: Roberts

[ 459 Pa. Page 554]

For more than 20 years, the Commonwealth has, pursuant to a 1954 court order, defrayed the costs of care of Alfred Downing, an incompetent committed to Farview State Hospital. The Commonwealth seeks to recover from the incompetent's estate the cost of his maintenance since his commitment. The orphans' court of Westmoreland County denied the Commonwealth's claim. The Commonwealth appealed.*fn1 We hold that the Commonwealth is bound by the unappealed and unmodified 1954 order and may not recover its expenditures from the estate. We affirm.

In April 1954, Downing was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife. The Commonwealth did not prosecute him for the crime. Instead, upon the petition of the warden supervising Downing's incarceration pending trial, the Court of Quarter Sessions appointed two doctors who examined Downing and found him to be psychotic with criminal tendencies. They recommended that Downing be committed to Farview State Hospital. The court adopted this recommendation and on June 3, 1954, committed Downing pursuant to the Mental Health Act of 1951.*fn2 The commitment order provided, inter alia:

"Now, June 3, 1954, it is ordered and directed that Alfred Downing be committed to the Farview State Hospital to be there detained and treated as an insane person at the expense of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

[ 459 Pa. Page 555]

    until further order of the Court; and this shall be sufficient warrant for said commitment."

In a subsequent order the court appointed a guardian for the incompetent's estate.

In 1965, the Commonwealth filed a petition in the court of common pleas asserting that the estate was indebted to the Commonwealth for the cost of the incompetent's care since his commitment. The court transferred the claim to the orphans' court. There the case languished until 1972, when the guardian filed a first and partial account. The court in its adjudication denied the Commonwealth's claim.

The Mental Health Act of 1951, pursuant to which Downing was committed, provided that the committing court should determine at the time of commitment who was to bear the cost of the incompetent's care.*fn3 The statute thereby relieved the incompetent's family and the guardian of his ...


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