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EDWARD B. LEWIS AND MARY E. LEWIS v. CARL H. SPITLER AND LEE SMITH (05/18/79)

decided: May 18, 1979.

EDWARD B. LEWIS AND MARY E. LEWIS, APPELLANTS,
v.
CARL H. SPITLER AND LEE SMITH



No. 2244 October Term, 1978, Appeal from the Order of the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas No. 507, September Term, 1969.

COUNSEL

W. Scott Staruch, Harrisburg, for appellants.

Howard B. Krug, Harrisburg, for appellees.

Cercone, President Judge, and Watkins and Hoffman, JJ.

Author: Hoffman

[ 266 Pa. Super. Page 204]

This is an action for the declaration of a purchase-money resulting trust in favor of plaintiffs (hereinafter Lewis) against the defendant record owner of the land in question (hereinafter Spitler), based upon Lewis' transfer of $3,000 to Spitler in connection with the purchase of the land (hereinafter the Neidich tract or simply the tract). The court below denied the requested relief but awarded plaintiffs the return of their money plus interest. Only Lewis has appealed. We will reverse and remand for the entry of an appropriate order.

The land in question is a 51 acre wooded, mountainous tract in Lebanon County previously owned by Carl H. Neidich, Spitler's uncle. The administrators of the Neidich estate were his widow (Spitler's aunt) and sister (Spitler's mother). Appalachian Drive, a road which runs east and west, divides the tract. The terrain of the parcel to the north of the road, about 41 acres, is very steep and mountainous. The parcel to the south of the road, about ten acres, is comparatively flat with a man-made pond in the southernmost part of the tract. From the north side of the pond to the southern border of the tract is approximately four acres.

Lee Smith, another named defendant, is a builder who has done some work for Lewis in the past. Spitler is a stone mason whom Smith has previously employed. Lewis is a dentist who has treated Smith. During one office visit, Lewis told Smith of his desire to find a piece of land upon which he could build a vacation home. Smith told him the Neidich tract was up for sale. After Lewis expressed some interest, Smith brought Lewis and Spitler together because he thought that Spitler, being family to the deceased and the administrators of the estate, had the best chance to purchase the tract. Smith acted as a mediator between the parties, hoping that Lewis could acquire part of the tract so that he (Smith) would be contracted to build the residence thereon envisioned by Lewis.

[ 266 Pa. Super. Page 205]

Lewis testified that he, Smith, and Spitler first visited the Neidich tract in May of 1967. As they walked the grounds, they discussed how the tract might be acquired. Smith suggested that Lewis and Spitler pool their money and have Spitler bid on the property when it went on sale. Lewis expressed an interest in the part of the tract south of the road for a vacation retreat. Spitler indicated he wanted the larger, mountainous northern part for hunting and camping. Smith estimated that the southern parcel was about 15 acres and that $3,000 would be a fair contribution for it. According to Lewis, he and Spitler both agreed to this. On a second visit to the Neidich tract in late November or early December of 1967, the parties authorized Spitler to bid as high as $10,000 for the Neidich tract, and agreed that if their bid was successful, they would share in the cost of surveying the land so that Lewis could be given a deed to the southern parcel.

On January 3, 1968, Spitler called Lewis and told him he needed the $3,000 immediately to purchase the land. Lewis took a check to him the next day. In January of 1969, a year later, Spitler showed Lewis a survey of the Neidich tract which indicated that Lewis' parcel was limited to the four southernmost acres south of the pond. Lewis objected and subsequently commenced this lawsuit.

Spitler testified that at the parties' first visit to the Neidich tract in May of 1967, there was no discussion of price or who would take which part of the tract. On the second visit in the Fall of 1967, Spitler told Lewis he would draw a northern boundary line for Lewis' parcel about 100 feet north of the pond, estimating that would be four to five acres, for $3,000. Spitler testified that Lewis agreed to this.

As to the financing of the tract, Spitler testified that the administrators of the Neidich estate who were members of his family promised him that he could purchase the tract for $100 above the highest bid otherwise received. In October of 1967, he made a down payment to the estate of $1,000 using money borrowed from Smith. On January 4, 1968, he (1) borrowed $5,000 ...


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