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06/30/97 ESTATE EUGENIA SCHRAM ALLEGHENY COUNTY

June 30, 1997

IN RE ESTATE OF: EUGENIA SCHRAM; ALLEGHENY COUNTY, THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF AGING, THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY MH/MR PROGRAM, THE JOHN J. KANE REGIONAL CENTER, ED HABERCHAK AND THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY LAW DEPARTMENT, APPELLANTS; IN RE ESTATE OF: CHARLES C. BLAKE; ALLEGHENY COUNTY, THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF AGING, THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY MH/MR PROGRAM, THE JOHN J. KANE REGIONAL CENTER, ED HABERCHAK AND THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY LAW DEPARTMENT, APPELLANTS; IN RE ESTATE OF: RUBY C. PRICE; ALLEGHENY COUNTY, THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF AGING, THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY MH/MR PROGRAM, THE JOHN J. KANE REGIONAL CENTER, ED HABERCHAK AND THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY LAW DEPARTMENT, APPELLANTS; IN RE ESTATE OF: CLIFFORD CLAYTON; ALLEGHENY COUNTY, THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF AGING, THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY MH/MR PROGRAM, THE JOHN J. KANE REGIONAL CENTER, ED HABERCHAK AND THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY LAW DEPARTMENT, APPELLANTS; IN RE ESTATE OF: ELMER PICARD; ALLEGHENY COUNTY, THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF AGING, THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY MH/MR PROGRAM, THE JOHN J. KANE REGIONAL CENTER, ED HABERCHAK AND THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY LAW DEPARTMENT, APPELLANTS


Appealed From No. 2548 of 1991, 862 of 1992, 2029 of 1991, 8650 of 1990 and 5306 of 1988. Common Pleas Court of the County of Allegheny. Judge WEKSELMAN.

Before: Honorable Dan Pellegrini, Judge, Honorable James R. Kelley, Judge, Honorable Samuel L. Rodgers, Senior Judge. Opinion BY Judge Kelley.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kelley

OPINION BY JUDGE KELLEY

FILED: June 30, 1997

In these consolidated appeals, the Allegheny County Department of Law (department) appeals from the orders of the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court) dismissing its exceptions to the court's orders confirming the final accounts submitted by Guardianship Services of Allegheny County, Inc. (GSAC) and Elderly Citizens Resource Center, Inc. (ECRC), ordering distribution of the estates, and granting GSAC's and ECRC's motion for counsel fees. We affirm.

The facts of these cases may be summarized as follows. Between 1989 and 1992, agents of GSAC and ECRC were appointed by the trial court to be the permanent guardians of the estates of the incapacitated individuals involved in the instant cases under the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code (Code), 20 Pa.C.S. §§ 5501 5555. On August 30, 1994, pursuant to section 5553(a) of the Code, *fn1 the trial court appointed GSAC as successor guardian to these incapacitated individuals.

On December 29, 1994, GSAC filed petitions for leave to resign as guardian and requested the immediate appointment of an emergency guardian for each of the incapacitated individuals. In the petitions, GSAC alleged that due to a loss of revenue, it was financially distressed and no longer had sufficient personnel to continue to perform its fiduciary duties. In sum, GSAC alleged that it was concluding all agency operations by December 31, 1994.

As a result, on December 29, 1994, the trial court issued orders appointing a successor guardian through Allegheny County's guardianship program for each of the incapacitated individuals. The orders also instructed GSAC to transfer and deliver to the successor guardians all estate assets, records, and other documentation and materials pertaining to the incapacitated individuals, and to file final accounts of its administration of the incapacitated individuals' estates. *fn2

Subsequently, pursuant to the court orders, final accounts for the estates were filed with the trial court. The department, as legal counsel to the successor guardians and the Allegheny County Department of Aging, filed objections to the final accounts based, inter alia, on irregularities in the files. Through the objections the department sought the imposition of a surcharge to restore funds to the depleted estates as a remedy for the financial irregularities.

On July 7 and 10, 1995, hearings were held on the department's objections to the accounts. On July 11, 1995, the trial court issued, in open court, an oral adjudication overruling the department's objections, directing that distribution of the estates be made, and denying the department's surcharge petition. On July 17, 1995, the trial court filed orders formally dismissing the department's objections, confirming the accounts, and denying the department's requests for a surcharge. *fn3

On July 27, 1995, the department, on behalf of the Department of Aging, filed exceptions to the trial court's orders dismissing its objections and confirming the accounts. None of the successor guardians joined in the exceptions. The exceptions alleged, inter alia, that:

4. The trial court failed to consider or give proper weight to the fact that the guardian admitted that they had invaded the wards' principal without a court order.

5. The trial court absolutely confirmed the accounts filed by the guardian, which fail to follow statutory requirements and Court Rules as set forth in the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code, 20 Pa.C.S.A. 101 et. seq.

See Docket Entry 45, p. 3. *fn4

On September 28, 1995, argument on the department's exceptions were conducted before the trial court. At the hearing, the trial court also ordered GSAC and ECRC to submit information relating to the counsel fees they had incurred in the litigation involving these estates. On October 25, 1995, the trial court heard argument on the assessment of counsel fees against the department.

On November 15, 1995, the trial court entered orders in each of these cases dismissing the department's exceptions and awarding counsel fees. The opinion of the trial court filed in support of the orders states, in pertinent part:

This Court dismissed objections filed by [the department], and confirmed accounts in these five estates of incapacitated persons, and filed a decree of distribution on July 19, 1995. ... The Allegheny County Department of Aging, has now filed exceptions to the Orders dismissing the objections of the County and confirming the accounts. Those exceptions are now before the Court for Disposition, along with a motion filed on behalf of , and Richard S. Levine, for attorney's fees against the [department], which is acting on behalf of the Department of Aging, and against the Department of Aging itself.

The Court conducted a two-day hearing with respect to the objections initially filed to the accounts, and dismissed those objections on the basis that the County had failed to present any evidence of any kind which would lead to the Conclusion that anything was amiss in the handling of the estates of the particular wards by the corporate fiduciaries or Levine. The Court adjudicated that matter orally, and the transcript of the hearing indicates plainly the basis for the Court's ruling. The County's exceptions add absolutely nothing to what has gone before.

It is difficult to determine precisely what it is the County is complaining of in its exceptions. Although the exceptions as filed are nine in number, the brief in support of the exceptions lists five issues. Since they are combinations in some instances of the filed ...


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