No. 181 March Term, 1979, Appeal from the Order Dated May 10, 1979 of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh District, at No. 486 April Term, 1978,
Robert J. Milie, Greensburg, for appellant.
Christ J. Walthour, Jr., and S. Wayne Whitehead, Greensburg, for appellee.
O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, Kauffman, JJ. Roberts, J., concurs in the result.
This appeal is in response to a dismissal of an action in equity seeking the rescission of an agreement for the sale of real estate. The basis of the action was an alleged fraud in seeking the execution of the agreement. The Chancellor was affirmed by the court en banc in finding that fraud had not been established nor had there been a showing that a confidential relationship existed between the parties to the agreement.
On May 22, 1968, Blanche Frowen executed an agreement to sell to J. Marshall Blank, appellee, her farm containing approximately seventy (70) acres in Unity Township, Westmoreland County, for the sum of $15,000.00, of which $500.00 was paid prior to the execution of the agreement and the remaining balance of $14,500.00 no later than one year following the death of Ms. Frowen. Interest computed at the rate of five percent per annum was to be paid quarterly on the unpaid balance. The instant action was initiated by a complaint in equity filed November 29, 1973 by Blanche Frowen as plaintiff. This action resulted in a decree by the Chancellor which was affirmed by the Court en banc, with one judge dissenting,*fn1 dismissing the complaint, holding that Ms. Frowen had failed to establish her burden of proof regarding the allegations of fraud. On appeal to the Superior Court the case was remanded. Frowen v. Blank, 242 Pa. Super. 276, 363 A.2d 1267 (1976) (Frowen I). In Frowen I, Ms. Frowen argued "that if she did not prove fraud, she did prove a breach of confidential relationship." Id., 242 Pa. Super. at 277, 363 A.2d at 1268. The Superior Court was inclined to agree that there had been a breach of a confidential relationship but declined to so rule and elected to remand because of the inadequacy of the lower court's findings as to the existence of a confidential relationship. Thus in Frowen I the lower court was expressly directed on remand to resolve the evidentiary disparities necessary to decide whether a prima facie case on the issue of confidential relationship had been established.
Upon remand the Chancellor, after setting forth findings of fact and conclusions of law in which he determined that no confidential relationship had been established, reaffirmed his earlier decree. The exceptions were dismissed this time by a unanimous court en banc. On appeal the Superior
Court affirmed with one judge dissenting. Frowen v. Blank, 266 Pa. Super. 145, 403 A.2d 585 (1979). (Frowen II).*fn2 This Court granted review to determine whether the record did establish prima facie the allegation of fraud or in the alternative whether it established a confidential relationship between decedent and appellee.
We begin our analysis remembering that the findings of the Chancellor will not be reversed unless it appears that he has clearly abused his discretion or committed an error of law. Yuhas v. Schmidt, 434 Pa. 447, 258 A.2d 616 (1969). Where credibility of witnesses is important to the determination, the Chancellor's findings are entitled to particular weight because of his opportunity to observe their demeanor. Brentwater Homes, Inc. v. Weibley, 471 Pa. 17, 369 A.2d 1172 (1977). Where a reading of the record reasonably can be said to reflect the conclusions reached by the Chancellor, a reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Chancellor. Payne v. Kassab, 468 Pa. 226, 361 A.2d 263 (1976). A reviewing ...