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Langman v. Keystone Nat'l Bank & Trust Co.

November 23, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dalzell, J.


James H. Langman died on November 1, 2001 and was survived by six children from his first marriage ("First Marriage Children"). He second marriage ended in divorce before his death. James and his second wife had one child, Jesse Langman, who is the plaintiff in this case. The fight over James's will in the Orphans' Court of Lehigh County ("Orphans' Court"), In re: Estate of James H. Langman, 2002-0438 ("Orphans' Court Proceedings" or "OCP"), is a lengthy tale worthy of comparison to Jarndyce v. Jarndyce from Charles Dickens's Bleak House. Incredibly, it appears that there may still be unresolved issues regarding the probate of James's will between the First Marriage Children -- to whom James left relatively little -- and Jesse. See Jesse Langman Dep., Keystone Ex. 1 at 627-30.

Jesse is or was the beneficiary of three trusts that both of his parents created -- the Deer Park, Terlinqua, and Hanford Trusts -- as well as the Allis Trust, which his mother alone created. Jesse Langman Responses to Wiener Defendants' Interrogatories, Wiener Ex. QQ at ¶ 7. Jesse asserts claims against the defendants in this case for, inter alia, abuse of process regarding disputes in the Orphans' Court over how these trusts interacted with the assets in James's estate ("Estate").

There are seven defendants in this diversity case, and for simplicity's sake we will group them into four categories. Stephen W. Wiener and his law firm, Wiener & Wiener, LLP ("Wiener Defendants") represented both administrators of the Estate. Constantine M. Vasiliadis and his law firm, Kolb, Vasiliadis and Florenz, LLP ("Vasiliadis Defendants"), represented the First Marriage Children. Sandra Langman, Jesse's half-sister, was the first administrator of the Estate.*fn1 After Jesse moved to remove Sandra as administrator, and the Orphans' Court accepted her subsequent resignation from that post, that Court named the Trust Company of Lehigh County as the second administrator. That entity subsequently merged with defendant Keystone Nazareth Bank & Trust Company, and C. Palmer Zigmund represented the Trust Company/Keystone in the Orphans' Court. We refer to these last two defendants collectively as "Keystone Defendants," and we also refer to the Trust Company as "Keystone."

Neil Hendershot, who is not a party to this case, represented Jesse's trusts in the underlying case. Neil Hendershot Dep., Wiener Ex. J, at 25-26.

In our Orders of September 25 and September 29, 2008, we dismissed some of the claims in Jesse's complaint, including that for wrongful use of civil process pursuant to the Dragonetti Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8351, et. seq. But we concluded that Jesse had pled sufficient facts to support a common law tort claim for abuse of process as to the Wiener, Keystone, and Vasiliadis Defendants. Jesse has also asserted a claim on his own behalf and on behalf of the Deer Park Trust against the Keystone and Wiener Defendants -- the second Estate administrator and its counsel --for breach of fiduciary duty. For the reasons we discuss at length below, we will grant defendants' motions for summary judgment on the abuse of process and breach of fiduciary duty claims because Jesse failed to assert those claims within the two-year statute of limitations that applies to both claims.

Jesse "inform[ed]" us that he will not pursue his action for conversion against the Keystone Defendants. Pl. Brief at 15. We will therefore grant as unopposed the Keystone Defendants' motion for summary judgment on that claim.

I. Facts

The outcome of defendants' motions for summary judgment regarding Jesse's compliance with the statute of limitations depends on the chronology of defendants' actions, and the facts we recite below focus on that issue. We provide some other facts to explain the context in which the parties were operating in the Orphans' Court. Because the burden is on the parties to point us to relevant facts in the voluminous record, we have not embarked on an unguided tour of the parties' documents but instead focus on the facts that they have brought to our attention in their motions, responses, and briefs. "Judges are not like pigs, hunting for truffles buried in briefs" -- or, for that matter, in the thousands of pages of record that accompany them. United States v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir. 1991).

A. Jesse Langman's Trusts

Before James's death, Jesse's parents established four trusts and named him as the beneficiary of each. His mother was the sole grantor of the Allis Trust, but both of his parents were the grantors for the Deer Park, Hanford, and Terlinqua Trusts.

See Attachment to Pl. Ex. 91, Affidavit and Affirmation to Internal Revenue Service, at ¶¶ 1-4. The property of these trusts was at the center of the Orphans' Court dispute, and Jesse has also in this case asserted a breach of fiduciary duty claim against the Wiener and Keystone Defendants on behalf of himself and the Deer Park Trust.

B. Administrators of Estate

Jesse's half-sister Sandra Langham was the first administrator of James's estate. Jesse filed a petition to remove Sandra from that position, and she then resigned. The Orphans' Court accepted her resignation on January 7, 2003.*fn2 Orphans' Court Order, January 7, 2003, Wiener Ex. D at 1. The Orphans' Court appointed Keystone as the successor administrator, and the Court ordered Jesse to deliver to Keystone within ten days all of his father's assets and records, "including but not limited to tangible personal property, mail, business records, tax returns and personal records." Wiener Ex. D at 2. The parties' dispute regarding when and how completely or honestly Jesse complied with that Order is not relevant to our resolution of the defendants' motions.

C. The 1992 Will Versus the 1995 Will

The parties also sparred in the Orphans' Court about which of James's purported wills should be probated. Initially, his will dated June 26, 1992 ("1992 Will") was submitted to probate. Under the terms of that will, the six children from James's first marriage would each receive $1,000.00,*fn3 and Jesse would receive nothing because, as the will stated, James had already provided for him. See 1992 Will, Wiener Ex. B. In the 1992 Will, James also directed that his personal property should go to his wife or, if she predeceased him, to five of the First Marriage Children and Jesse. Alan Kinney was appointed executor, and Miriam Langman was appointed as the substitute executor. See 1992 Will. As discussed above, for reasons not relevant to the motions at hand, Sandra Langman became the 1992 Will's first administrator, and Keystone (then Trust Company of Lehigh County) was the second administrator.*fn4

In August of 2003, Jesse filed an appeal contending that the Register of Wills should revoke probate of the 1992 Will and instead admit to probate James's later will, which was dated November 20, 1995 ("1995 Will"). Jesse Langman Appeal, OCP, Wiener Ex. K. Pursuant to the 1995 Will, Jesse would have been appointed executor, the six First Marriage Children and other individuals not involved in this case would have received modest sums, and Jesse would have received all of James's other property. See 1995 Will, Wiener Ex. L.*fn5 On January 9, 2004, Jesse withdrew his appeal to submit the 1995 Will to probate, and the 1992 Will was duly probated. See Praecipe to Withdraw Appeal, OCP, January 9, 2004, Wiener Ex. N.

D. The Underlying Dispute Regarding the Trusts' Petitions for Permission to Sell Property

On December 31, 2003, Jesse and his trusts filed petitions in the Orphans' Court seeking, inter alia, confirmation that the trusts could sell their real property. The Deer Park Trust appeared to own two parcels of farm land in Lehigh County. See Petition of the Deer Park Trust, OCP, December 31, 2003, Wiener Ex. T, at ¶¶ 16, 61, and page 13. The Deer Park Trust stated in the petition that it wanted to sell the land to satisfy its potential estate tax burden. Id. at ¶¶ 60-61. The Terlinqua Trust owned an apartment building in Slatington, Pennsylvania. Petition of the Terlinqua Trust, OCP, December 31, 2003, Wiener Ex. U at ¶¶ 8, 14, 17. The Terlinqua Trust sought judicial confirmation that it could sell the apartment building. Id. at 11-12. The Wiener Defendants filed a response to both petitions on behalf of the Keystone Defendants on March 22, 2004. Responses to Petitions, OCP, Wiener Ex. X, Y; Jesse Langman Dep. at 419-20.

Jesse filed motions for summary judgment in the Orphans' Court regarding both petitions on June 4, 2004. Motions for Summary Judgment, OCP, Wiener Ex. Z, AA. Among other things, he contended that Keystone filed its response to the trusts' petitions three days late. See Wiener Ex. Z at ¶ 33; Wiener Ex. AA at ¶ 29. On July 6, 2004, the Wiener Defendants filed the Estate's responses to the motions for summary judgment, and a month later they filed amended responses. See Wiener Ex. BB, CC, DD, EE; Jesse Langman Dep. at 421-22. Jesse knew about all of these filings by August of 2004. See Jesse Langman Dep. at 419-22.

In Jesse's brief in response to the defendants' motions for summary judgment in this case, he does not identify any facts to support a claim that defendants did anything else regarding the OCP after August of 2004. At some point before the Orphans' Court ruled on June 30, 2005, the defendants apparently agreed to withdraw their opposition to the trusts' property sales, but that conciliation can hardly be considered a fact that supports Jesse's claim for abuse of process. According to Jesse, the only other ...

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