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In re Estate of Stricker

August 17, 2009

IN RE: ESTATE OF CATHERINE M. STRICKER, DECEASED
APPEAL OF: RONALD E. STRICKER



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court Filed August 10, 2007 at 1085 MDA 2006 quashing the order of Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Div, at No132-2001, dated 06-07-2006.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Madame Justice Greenspan

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, GREENSPAN, JJ.

ARGUED: December 4, 2008

OPINION

This appeal presents the question of appealability of Orphans' Court orders to sell real estate in the process of disposition of an estate. Appellant Ronald Stricker requests that we overrule the Orphans' and Superior Courts, and hold either that the Orphans' Court's orders to sell real estate were final and therefore appealable, or that those orders were interlocutory but appealable as collateral orders. We decline to do either and, accordingly, affirm the Superior Court.

Decedent Catherine M. Stricker's will was admitted to probate on February 15, 2001. Appellant and his sister, Appellee Linda Stricker, were appointed co-executors of the decedent's estate. There are approximately ten beneficiaries to the estate, including Appellant. The two tracts of land at the core of the present dispute constitute the bulk of the estate's value. The first, referred to below as the "restricted tract," is restricted by an option to repurchase in the deed. Appellee Mary Detweiler, current owner of the adjacent land and proper holder of the option to repurchase, has chosen to exercise the option. The other tract, the "unrestricted tract," has been sold to John Fulton, the highest bidder at auction. On this basis, the Orphans' Court ordered that the unrestricted tract be delivered to him.

Appellant had, prior to the auction, made several offers to the estate to buy both tracts. His offers, which were below fair market value, were rejected by the co-executrix and the beneficiaries. Appellant participated in the public auction for the unrestricted tract, but Mr. Fulton's bid exceeded the amount that Appellant had previously offered for both tracts, and exceeded Appellant's auction bid. When it became apparent after the auction that Appellant would not cooperate in the sale of either tract, Appellee Linda Stricker, as coexecutrix, petitioned the court to compel him to sign the agreement of sale disposing of the unrestricted tract. After holding multiple hearings on this issue as well as Appellant's attempts to have Ms. Stricker removed as co-executrix, the court determined that the sale was valid. Appellant filed an appeal of that decision, and on July 15, 2005, the Superior Court quashed the appeal as interlocutory.

The Orphans' Court then considered the status of the restricted tract, determining in an order dated May 11, 2006, that the option to repurchase was valid and binding, and that therefore the co-executors must take steps to consummate the sale. The court also ordered the co-executors to move toward finalizing the sale of the unrestricted tract, which had still not been delivered to Mr. Fulton. Appellant filed a notice of appeal and a statement of matters complained of pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925. The Orphans' Court subsequently issued an opinion pursuant to Rule 1925 wherein it determined that the order appealed from was interlocutory and recommended quashal.

After supplemental briefing, the Superior Court considered the case and determined that the orders appealed from are not final because there had been no final accounting of the estate. The Superior Court further held that the orders appealed from are not collateral and therefore are not appealable under the collateral order doctrine. On those bases, the Superior Court quashed the appeal.*fn1

This Court granted Appellant's Petition for Allowance of Appeal on the following issues:

a. Whether the Superior Court erred in holding the Orphans' Court orders to sell the estate's real estate were not appealable because they were not final orders pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 341 and 342, where the appeal was taken prior to the executors' accounting and order of final distribution.

b. Whether the Superior Court erred in holding the Orphans' Court's orders to sell real estate were not appealable prior to the executors' accounting and final distribution for not being collateral orders under Pa.R.A.P. 313.

The Finality of the Orders

Rule 341 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure defines a final order as one that disposes of all claims and all parties, is defined as such by statute, or is designated as such at the time it is entered by the trial court in order to expedite appellate review. Pa.R.A.P. 341(b) and (c). Rule 342 allows Orphans' Court judges to designate as final (and therefore immediately appealable) an order "making a distribution, or determining an interest in realty or personalty or the status of individuals or entities." Pa.R.A.P. 342. It does not require that any particular class of orders be treated as final, but instead leaves the determination of finality of orders not disposing of all claims and all parties up to the Orphans' Court judge. Pa.R.A.P. 342(1). Certification under ...


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