Appeal from the Order entered January 10, 2011, Court of Common Pleas, Dauphin County, Civil Division at No. 2008-CV-07006-EJ
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Donohue, J.
BEFORE: DONOHUE, LAZARUS and FITZGERALD*fn1 , JJ.
Appellants, Walter Young, Bradley Shepler, Linda Kerlin, Frank Grumbine, Edward Dewire, and the Estate of John W. Borst, (collectively, "Tenants"), appeal from the order entered by the Court of Common Pleas, Dauphin County, granting the request for summary judgment made by Edward Stover Sr. Testamentary Trust ("the Trust"). After careful review, we reverse and remand.*fn2
(stating that the court of common pleas may exercise jurisdiction over cases wherein substantial questions concerning matters under the exclusive jurisdiction of the orphans' court pursuant to section 711 as well as matters not included in section 711); see also 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 712 JOINT STATE GOVERNMENT COMMISSION COMMENT - 1976 (explaining that this rule "is intended to avoid multiple actions in different divisions in a case involving two or more questions, one of which would ordinarily be decided by the orphans' court division and the other by the trial or family division.")
The trial court summarized the relevant factual and procedural histories*fn3 of the case as follows:
The property at issue, previously owned by decedent, Edward Stover, Sr., and now held by [the Trust], is known as the Stoverdale Campground. Over the years, a number of individuals, including [Tenants] or purported sub-lessees, have lived on lots of the campground, paid rent as month to month tenants, and allegedly built and maintained permanent structures thereon. [The Trust], as property owner, notified [Tenants] and other occupants on September 27, 2007, that their month to month tenancies had expired, and that [Tenants] were required to vacate the premises by November 1, 2007.
[Tenants] have refused [to] leave, asserting that they have a right to continue to occupy the Stoverdale Campground lots. [Tenants] rely upon language of testamentary documents of Edward Stover Sr., which they assert entitles them to rights in the property, including a right of first refusal. They assert that, '[the Trust's] attempted eviction is at odds with, in derogation of, and in violation of the terms of the ground rent and established practices as to ground rent tenants in the Stoverdale Campground dating back more than eighty (80) years' and that '[Tenants] ... are entitled to exercise an option to purchase their lot at a fair market value or receive derivative compensation.'
[The Trust] asserts that by refusing to vacate the property, [Tenants] have unjustly and unlawfully retained possession of the premises without right or claim of title.
The testamentary language upon which [Tenants] rely provides:
ITEM VII. ...Much of my life as well as certain of the material, [sic] goods with which the Lord has blessed me have been devoted to the Stoverdale United Methodist Church as well as the camp meeting at Stoverdale. I have endeavored to carry out a promise which I made to my father in this regard. My trustees should keep this in mind at all times and particularly to my property.
ITEM X. I specifically direct my testamentary trustees on the following two points of concern:
A. At such time as the fee simple to the land in the Stoverdale area may be sold by the direction of the Board of Trustees, I direct that they give the first right of purchase to the person or ...