Appeal from the Order dated July 12, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County Orphans' Court at No(s): 65-08-54
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lazarus, J
BEFORE: DONOHUE, J., LAZARUS, J., and OTT, J.
Richard Sovich ("Richard") appeals from the order of the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, dismissing his motion to enforce a claim against the Estate of Andrew Sovich, Jr. ("Andrew"), Deceased. After careful review of the record and the parties' briefs, we affirm.
In 1982, Richard agreed to loan Andrew the sum of $15,000 to assist him in repaying a bank loan after losing his job. Trial Court Decision and Order, 7/12/11, at 1. The loan was memorialized by agreement dated July 26, 1982 ("Agreement"), which provided as follows:
On this date I am lending to my brother Andy his family the sum of $15,000.00 to repay a bank loan. This money is to be repaid in a reasonable amount of time (5 years). If it is not repayed (sic) as stated, interest will be added at the prevailing rate after July 1987.
/s/ Richard Sovich /s/ Andrew Sovich
After a hearing,*fn1 the trial court found that, as of the date of Andrew's death on December 2, 2007, Andrew had not made any payments on the loan. Id. at 2-3. On March 7, 2008, Richard filed a claim against Andrew's estate. On May 13, 2011, Richard filed a motion to enforce that claim, which the estate opposed. A hearing was scheduled for June 6, 2011 and, by Decision and Order docketed July 13, 2011, the trial court dismissed Richard's claim as barred by Secion 3-118(a) of the Uniform Commercial Code ("Code"), codified at 13 Pa.C.S.A. § 3118(a), which imposes a six-year limitation period on notes payable at a definite time. This timely appeal followed, in which Richard raises the following issues for our review.
1. Whether the trial court erred in determining the Agreement between Richard and Andrew Sovich is a negotiable instrument under 13 Pa.C.S.A. § 3104?
2. Whether the trial court erred in determining that the statute of limitations applicable to the Agreement is 13 Pa.C.S.A. § 3118?
3. Regardless of the applicable limitations period, whether the trial court erred in failing to recognize an exception to the limitations period due to a confidential relationship between Richard and Andrew Sovich?
4. Was the transaction governed by contract principles, with no demand for payment having been made prior to Andrew Sovich's death?
Brief of Appellant, at 1.
When reviewing a decree entered by the Orphans' Court, this Court must determine whether the record is free from legal error and the trial court's factual findings are supported by the evidence. Because the Orphans' Court sits as the fact-finder, it determines the credibility of the witnesses and, on review, this Court will not reverse the trial court's credibility determinations absent an abuse of discretion.
In re Estate of Aiello, 993 A.2d 283, 287 (Pa. Super. 2010).
Richard's first, second, and fourth appellate issues hinge on his assertion that the trial court erred when it found that the Code, rather than general common law contract principles, applied to the Agreement. Richard contends that the Code is inapplicable here because the transaction at issue was personal, rather than commercial, and as such is outside the intended scope of the Code.
In support of his argument, Richard cites to "underlying purposes and policies" of the Code, as set forth in 13 Pa.C.S.A. § 1103:
(1) to simplify, clarify and modernize the law governing commercial transactions; [and]
(2) to permit the continued expansion of commercial practices through custom, usage and ...