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Joanne Gail Salsman, Executrix of v. Ronald and Sarah L. Brown

August 24, 2012

JOANNE GAIL SALSMAN, EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF VERA SALSMAN, AND DOUGLAS HOWARD SALSMAN
v.
RONALD AND SARAH L. BROWN, APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Order entered October 4, 2011, in the Court of Common Pleas of Wyoming County, Civil Division, at No(s): 2008-1474.

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

J. A19045/12

BEFORE: BOWES, OTT, and STRASSBURGER*, JJ.

OPINION BY STRASSBURGER, J.:

Appellants, Ronald Brown and his wife, Sarah Brown (the Browns), appeal from the order granting a petition to enforce settlement agreement filed by Appellees, Joanne Gail Salsman, executrix of the estate of Vera Salsman, and Douglas Howard Salsman (the Salsmans). Upon review, we reverse and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Vera Salsman owned a large parcel of real estate located in Wyndham Township, Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. According to the allegations of the complaint, she agreed to convey it to Ronald Brown. He would subdivide it and distribute the land to Vera Salsman's heirs, retaining 42 acres for himself, for which he would pay Vera Salsman $650 per acre, for a total of $27,300. On December 1, 2008, the Salsmans filed a complaint against the Browns which included, inter alia, a count for breach of contract for failure to * Retired Senior Judge assigned to the Superior Court. make payments under the agreement, with the Browns owing a balance of $23,000 per the agreement.

On March 15, 2010, Patrick L. Beirne, Esquire, who represented the Browns, sent a letter to the Salsmans' attorney offering to settle the matter for $23,000 along with other stipulations. On April 12, 2010, the Salsmans' attorney sent a letter to Attorney Beirne accepting the offer. On October 13, 2010, the Salsmans filed a petition to enforce this settlement agreement because the Browns had not complied with the terms of the settlement.

On October 18, 2010, the trial court issued a rule to show cause why the settlement agreement should not be enforced. On November 15, 2010, Attorney Beirne filed a petition to withdraw his appearance in this matter because the Browns terminated his representation. On December 6, 2010, the Browns, through new counsel, filed an answer to the petition to enforce settlement averring they never authorized Attorney Beirne to make an offer to the Salsmans to settle the matter.

The hearing on the petition to enforce the settlement agreement was held on December 7, 2010.*fn1 Prior to the hearing, the Salsmans subpoenaed Attorney Beirne to testify regarding these letters. Attorney Beirne asked the trial court to quash the subpoena arguing that he would not be permitted to testify because the Browns did not waive their attorney client privilege. The trial court then quashed the subpoena. N.T., 11/22/2011, at 13.

At the hearing, Joanne Salsman testified that she received a letter from Attorney Beirne with an offer to settle the case and she accepted the terms of the settlement. Ronald Brown also testified. He testified that he was not aware that Attorney Beirne wrote the March 15, 2010 letter, he was not aware that he sent the letter, and Attorney Beirne was not authorized to do so. Id. at 32.*fn2 The parties stipulated that Sarah Brown would offer the same testimony as Ronald Brown. Id. at 44.

Following the hearing, the parties were still unable to reach a settlement agreement, and on October 4, 2011, the trial court entered an order granting the Salsmans' petition to enforce the settlement agreement. The Browns filed a timely notice of appeal and both the Browns and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

When reviewing a trial court's decision to enforce a settlement agreement, our scope of review is plenary as to questions of law, and we are free to draw our own inferences and reach our own conclusions from the facts as found by the court. However, we are only bound by the trial court's findings of fact which are supported by competent evidence. The prevailing party is entitled to have the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to its position. Thus, we will only overturn the trial court's decision when the factual findings of the court are against the weight of the evidence or its legal conclusions are erroneous.

Bennett v. Juzelenos, 791 A.2d 403, 406 (Pa. Super. 2002) (internal citations omitted).

Instantly, the trial court concluded that the settlement agreement was enforceable in this case where the record is clear that the Browns intended to settle the matter and they had numerous conversations with their attorney regarding settlement. Trial Court Opinion, 1/26/2012, at 11. The trial court did not believe the Browns' argument that the March 15, 2010 letter was a ...


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