No. 297 October Term, 1978, Appeal from Order dated July 12, 1977 denying Petition to Change Name by Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Civil Division of No. 7156 of 1977.
Dana M. Breslin, Chester, for appellant.
Donald M. Johnson, Thorndale, for appellee.
Price, Hester and Hoffman, JJ.
[ 260 Pa. Super. Page 372]
Appellant contends that when the lower court denied his petition for a change of name it abused its discretion and violated his right of free exercise of religion. Because we find the record barren of any evidence to support the lower court's denial, we reverse the lower court's order dismissing appellant's petition and remand with directions to hold a hearing to permit the Commonwealth to produce material evidence to support its position.
The facts relevant to this appeal are as follows. On June 6, 1977, appellant filed a petition for a change of name in which he alleged that he wished "to have his name changed from Henry Alexander to: Abu Suleiman Abdul-Haqq Asadi for religious reasons." On July 11, 1977, the lower court held a hearing on appellant's petition. Appellant testified that he had resided in the same place for approximately
[ 260 Pa. Super. Page 373]
seven years but had been incarcerated in a state prison from February 1974 until October 1976. He testified that he wished to change his name "[f]or religious reasons. I would like to reflect the change in my life and religion [Islam] and so forth." He further testified that he was not attempting, through this name change, to avoid any lawful authorities. On cross-examination, appellant testified that he had always used his legal name, that he had arranged with the Probation Department to pay off certain costs and fines, and that he was actively seeking employment and intended to pay all fines and costs. No other witnesses testified at the hearing. The Commonwealth then made the following objection:
"Our position . . . would be that the change of name would have effect upon law enforcement documents and records in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and also nationally, and . . . we would ask the Court to use its discretion . . . and deny this petition as it appears, implicit with this man's contact with the law with the criminal charges [that] [i]t would be . . . or could be . . . harmful to the public." The Commonwealth presented no testimony or documentary evidence to support its objection.
On July 12, 1977, the lower court dismissed appellant's petition, stating that "in view of the very recent extensive criminal background of [appellant], . . . the Change of Name would have a detrimental effect on law enforcement records in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and [n]ationally." This appeal followed. We reverse and remand.
Section 3 of the Act of April 18, 1923, P.L. 75, § 3; 54 P.S. § 3, sets forth the conditions under which the lower court may grant a petition for a change of name:
"At the hearing of said petition, any person having lawful objection to the change of name may appear and be heard. If the court be satisfied after said hearing that there is no lawful objection to the granting of the prayer of said petition, a decree may ...