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FRANCES ISABELL GOEHRING v. HARLEYSVILLE MUTUAL CASUALTY CO. ET AL. (01/27/75)

decided: January 27, 1975.

FRANCES ISABELL GOEHRING, APPELLANT,
v.
HARLEYSVILLE MUTUAL CASUALTY CO. ET AL.



COUNSEL

Daniel M. Berger, C. William Berger, Berger & Kapetan, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

T. A. Tenor, Beaver Falls, Harold Reed, Jr., Reed, Sohn, Reed & Kunselman, David L. Gropp, Baldwin & Gropp, Beaver, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ.

Author: Roberts

[ 460 Pa. Page 141]

OPINION OF THE COURT

This is an equity proceeding to rescind a release given by plaintiff on the grounds of fraud, undue influence, and lack of capacity. Because the release was also involved in an action pending in the federal courts, the trial court sustained preliminary objections to jurisdiction, holding that the federal court's jurisdiction over the subject matter of the action was exclusive. This direct appeal followed.*fn1 We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

The events leading to filing of this action were well summarized by the trial court:

"On October 21, 1965, the plaintiff, Frances Isabell Goehring, was a passenger in an automobile driven by her husband, Oliver L. Goehring. The Goehrings' automobile was involved in a head-on collision with a truck driven by an employee of Diamond Milling Company (Diamond). Mr. Goehring was killed and Mrs. Goehring suffered substantial injuries. On October 20, 1966, almost one year after the accident, the plaintiff herein, Mrs. Goehring, executed a joint tort feasor's release in favor of her late husband, Oliver L. Goehring, deceased, and Kenneth L. Householder, Administrator of the Estate of Oliver L. Goehring, for a consideration of Twenty Thousand ($20,000.00) Dollars. The next day, that is on October 21, 1966, Mrs. Goehring filed suit

[ 460 Pa. Page 142]

. . . against Diamond in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (District Court). In that case, Diamond filed a third-party complaint against the estate of Oliver L. Goehring seeking contribution in the event Diamond's driver was determined to be negligent. Mr. Goehring's estate was represented as a third-party defendant by Harleysville Insurance Company (Harleysville), one of the defendants herein. In the case filed in the District Court, the estate, as third-party defendant, set up as a defense the joint tort feasor's release executed by the plaintiff, Mrs. Goehring. Following a trial before a jury, the plaintiff, Mrs. Goehring, in her own right, recovered a verdict in the amount of One Hundred Ten Thousand Four Hundred Seventeen ($110,417.00) Dollars against Diamond and Mr. Goehring's estate."

At this point, Mrs. Goehring instituted this action, seeking to rescind and cancel the joint tortfeasor's release. Diamond then moved in the District Court to reduce the verdict in favor of Mrs. Goehring to a money judgment for one-half the amount of the verdict because of the joint tortfeasor's release. The District Court denied the motion and stayed execution of the judgment pending determination of the validity of the release "by a court of competent jurisdiction." The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated the order of the District Court and directed the verdict be molded in accordance with the release. The Court of Appeals noted that Mrs. Goehring had not raised any question as to the validity of the release until after the close of evidence and held that the possibility of prejudice to the estate (which had not disputed the negligence of Mr. Goehring) precluded any attack on the release in that proceeding. On this basis, the District Court entered a final judgment against Diamond which has now been satisfied.

[ 460 Pa. Page 143]

On the basis of the federal proceedings, preliminary objections to jurisdiction were filed in this action. The trial court ...


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