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ESTATE HAROLD R. SCHMIDT (08/13/91)

filed: August 13, 1991.

IN RE ESTATE OF HAROLD R. SCHMIDT, DECEASED. APPEAL OF SQUARE 106 ASSOCIATES


Appeal from the Order entered on October 2, 1990, in the Court of Common Pleas, Orphans Division, of Allegheny County, No. 3222 of 1989.

COUNSEL

Richard B. Tucker, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Edward C. Schmidt, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Richard Disalle, Pittsburgh, for participating party.

Rowley, President Judge, and Cavanaugh and Hester, JJ.

Author: Rowley

[ 408 Pa. Super. Page 355]

This is a timely appeal by Square 106 Associates from the trial court's order denying its claim against the estate of Harold R. Schmidt. Appellant has raised the following issues for our review:

1) whether the orphans' court division lacked jurisdiction because appellant never presented a claim in the estate proceeding;

2) whether the orphans' court division lacked jurisdiction because appellant withdrew all its filings prior to the audit;

3) whether the orphans' court division abused its discretion in striking appellant's withdrawal of its claim; and

4) whether, by adjudicating the instant claim, the orphans' court division denied appellant due process of law and violated the preemption doctrine which arises from Art. VI, cl. 2 of the United States Constitution.

Having carefully reviewed the record and considered the arguments presented, we affirm the order of the trial court.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The complex factual and procedural history of the instant case, insofar as it is relevant to the issue before us, is as

[ 408 Pa. Super. Page 356]

    follows. On January 17, 1983, Square 106 Associates ("appellant"), a joint venture, leased office space in the District of Columbia to the law firm of Chapman, Duff & Paul. On February 28, 1985, the firm of Chapman, Duff & Paul entered into a "joint venture" with the law firm of Rose, Schmidt, Dixon & Hasley. The joint venture was known as Rose, Schmidt, Chapman, Duff & Hasley. However, relations between the two firms soured, and their joint venture was dissolved. Sometime thereafter, the Rose, Schmidt firm was renamed Rose, Schmidt, Hasley & Di Salle (RSH & DiS). Harold R. Schmidt was a partner in Rose, Schmidt, Dixon & Hasley; Rose, Schmidt, Chapman, Duff & Hasley; and RSH & DiS.

Harold R. Schmidt died on June 10, 1989. His will was admitted to probate in the orphans' court division of the court of common pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The court issued letters testamentary to Barbara N. Schmidt Wickwire on June 16, 1989. On August 7, 1989, appellant filed a claim in the amount of $2,036,398.00 against Harold R. Schmidt's estate ("Estate") in the orphans' court division of the court of common pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.*fn1 The claim, which was on a standard, preprinted form issued by the Allegheny County Register of Wills, stated as follows:

Form 93 -- O.C. Division

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS

ALLEGHENY COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA

ORPHANS' COURT DIVISION

[ 408 Pa. Super. Page 357]

IN RE: ESTATE

OF

HAROLD R. SCHMIDT

(Deceased)

NO. 3222 OF 1989

CLAIM

To the Clerk of Orphans' Court Division:

Index and make proper entry in your official records of the claim of The Square 106 Associates (Claimant) in the amount of $2,036,398.00 against the estate of the above named decedent. This claim is filed under Section 732(b)(2) of the Fiduciaries Act of 1949 as amended. The said decedent, who resided at 154 North Bellfield, Apt. 20, Pittsburg [sic], PA 15213, died on June 10, 1989.

Written notice of this claim was given to J. Mark Munson of Rose, Schmidt, Hasley & DiSalle, counsel, on August 3, 1989.

The amount of appellant's claim reflected rent allegedly due under appellant's lease of January 17, 1983, with the Chapman, Duff law firm.

On August 14, 1989, appellant also filed a "complaint for breach" of the same lease in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against the estate of Harold R. Schmidt; the estate of Michael W. Balfe, a former partner in the joint venture of Rose, Schmidt, Chapman, Duff & Hasley; and all present and former partners of Rose, Schmidt, Chapman, Duff & Hasley.

The Executor of the Estate filed her account on December 1, 1989. Appellant filed objections to the account on January 5, 1990. In a letter dated January 16, 1990, five former partners of Harold R. Schmidt (the "Angel partners")*fn2 notified the Estate in a letter, pursuant to 20 Pa.C.S.A. ยง 3384,*fn3 of their claims for indemnification and/or

[ 408 Pa. Super. Page 358]

    contribution against the Estate in the event that appellant prevailed against them in its District of Columbia lawsuit. The letter was written by Stanley R. Geary, Esq, an Angel Partner, and was sent to Richard Di Salle, Esq., counsel for the Estate.*fn4

The Executor's account was called for audit on January 17, 1990, at which time appellant filed a petition for continuance of the audit pending resolution of the litigation in the District of Columbia. This petition was denied, but the parties consented to an order which continued the audit pending the return of Judge Schwartz, who was on vacation. At a conciliation conference held with Judge Schwartz on March 6, 1990, appellant again requested that the orphans' court division stay distribution of the estate pending the disposition of the proceedings in the District of Columbia action. The trial court refused to stay distribution.

On March 14, 1990, appellant filed a notice of withdrawal of its claim. At a conference on March 21, 1990, the Estate requested that the court strike the withdrawal. On March 22, 1990, the court stated that it would strike the withdrawal and order a hearing on the merits of appellant's claim against the Estate on March 26, 1990.*fn5 N.T. 3/22/90, at 2. Appellant's attorney noted his exceptions to the order and informed the court that he was not authorized by appellant to attend the hearing on the merits of appellant's claim against the Estate.

In a letter dated March 26, 1990, former partners of the decedent, who are currently partners in the law firm of RSH & DiS ("the RSH & ...


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