March 7, 2014
RONALD J. ALBERTI, JR. Appellant
CHARLENE M. YURKO, Appellee
Appeal from the ORDER July 9, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County Civil Division at No(s): C-48-CV-2011-9228
BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., PANELLA and LAZARUS, JJ.
Appellant, Ronald J. Alberti, Jr., appeals from the final order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County in the above captioned matter. After careful review, we affirm.
Alberti and Appellee, Charlene M. Yurko, were involved in a relationship from 1994 to 2011 and are the biological parents of two minor children. In 1999, the parties jointly purchased a single family residence. The parties separated in 2001, at which time Yurko conveyed her interest in the property to Alberti. However, the parties reconciled in 2002 and, on October 18, 2006, the property was deeded back to Alberti and Yurko as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. At the time of the conveyance, the property was encumbered by a first mortgage with a principal balance of $115, 897.00 and a home equity line of credit with a principal balance of $21, 653.33, both from Sovereign Bank. While the parties resided together on the property, Yurko was a stay-at-home mother and, as such, Alberti was responsible for the payments on the mortgage and home equity line of credit.
On December 24, 2007, Alberti presented Yurko with a 1.51 carat diamond ring. There is a disagreement between the parties' designation of the diamond ring as an engagement ring or Christmas present.
In the summer of 2011, the parties separated permanently. Yurko enjoyed exclusive possession of the property until she vacated it following its sale on March 23, 2012. During the period of Yurko's exclusive possession (August 2011- February 2012), she paid the mortgage payments.
At the time of settlement on the property, the mortgage was $102, 650.22 and the payoff on the home equity line of credit was $24, 060.78. The net proceeds from the sale were $50, 378.39. Pursuant to an order entered on March 22, 2012, $10, 000.00 was paid to Yurko's counsel; $10, 000.00 was paid to Alberti's counsel; and the balance of $30, 378.39 was placed in escrow.
On September 26, 2011, Alberti commenced a partition and replevin action against Yurko. A non-jury trial was held before the Honorable Emil Giordano on December 18, 2012. On March 7, 2013, the trial court issued an order denying Alberti's claims for a credit for his payments toward the mortgage and home equity line of credit and his request for the return of the diamond ring. Alberti filed post-trial motions and after argument the trial court issued an order and accompanying opinion denying Alberti's requested relief. This timely appeal followed.
Alberti raises the following issues for our review:
I. In the partition action before the trial court, Appellant was entitled to receive credit for mortgage, home equity line of credit, hazard insurance and real estate tax payments made by him.
The trial court disagreed.
II. In the partition action before the trial court, Appellant was entitled to receive credit for his proportionate share of the fair rental value of the real property during Appellee's period of exclusive possession thereof.
The trial court disagreed.
Appellant's Brief, at 4. Alberti requests that we reverse the trial court's decision and grant Alberti credits for the mortgage payments he paid in the amount of $22, 302.60, the payments for the home equity line of credit from Sovereign Bank, and finally for his proportionate share of the fair rental valve of the home for the period of Yurko's exclusive possession.
Our standard of review in an equity action is well settled:
In equity matters, appellate review is based on a determination by the appellate court of such questions as whether (1) sufficient evidence supports the findings of the judge; (2) the factual inferences and legal conclusions based on those findings are correct; and (3) there has been an abuse of discretion or an error of law. Generally, in an appeal from a trial court sitting in equity, the standard of review is rigorous. The function of this Court on an appeal from an adjudication in equity is not to substitute its view for that of the lower tribunal; our task is rather to determine whether a judicial mind, on due consideration of all of the evidence, as a whole, could reasonably have reach the conclusion of that tribunal.
Omicron Systems, Inc. v. Weiner, 860 A.2d 554, 557-558 (Pa.Super. 2004) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, we are "bound by the trial court's determination concerning the credibility of witnesses and weight to be accorded the evidence." Marchetti v. Karpowick, 667 A.2d 724, 726 (Pa.Super. 1995) (citation omitted).
After a thorough review of the certified record, the briefs of the parties as well as the relevant case law and rules of civil procedure, we are in agreement with the trial court that Alberti's issues lack merit. In its well-written opinion, the trial court outlines its reasoning why the grant of Alberti's requests for relief are inappropriate in this matter. We can find no error in the trial court's analysis. As such, we affirm on the basis of the trial court's opinion filed in accordance with Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) on August 26, 2013. See Trial Court Opinion, 8/26/13.
Order affirmed. Jurisdiction relinquished.
IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF NORTHAMPTON COUNTY COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA CIVIL DIVISION
August 26, 2013
EMIL GIORDANO, J.
This Memorandum Opinion is filed in accordance with Rule 1925(a) of Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure. Appellant filed and served upon this Court a 1925(b) Statement of Matters Complained of on Appeal on August 8, 2013.
This matter was before this Court on Ronald Alberti, Jr.'s ("Appellant") Complaint filed on September 26, 2011 asserting claims against the Appellee for: (1) Partition; (2) Replevin; (3) Conversion; and 4) Trespass to Chattels.
II. Factual and Procedural History
Ronald J. Alberti, Jr. ("Appellant") filed this partition and replevin action on September 26, 2011 seeking to recover the following: (1) the full net proceeds from the sale of a residence located at 2615 John Street, Easton, PA 18045 ("Property"); (2) credit for his payments of a mortgage and home equity loan on the property; and (3) the return of an alleged engagement ring or payment of its fair market value from Charlene M. Yurko ("Appellee").
When the property was purchased by the Appellant and Appellee in 1999, the Mortgage on the Property was held in both Appellant's and Appellee's name. The Mortgage on the Property was refinanced in 2001 and transferred into the Appellant's name alone. In 2004, a home equity loan was taken out on the home solely in Appellant's name. In 2006, the Property was then transferred to both Appellant's and Appellee's names as joint tenants with the right of survivorship, without placing Appellee on either the mortgage or the home equity loan.
Appellee retained exclusive possession of the property pursuant to a Court Order by the Honorable Craig Dally, dated July 14, 2011. Appellee filed Preliminary Objections with an accompanying brief to the Appellant's Complaint on October 19, 2011. On November 7, 2011, Appellant filed an Amended Complaint, asserting the same claims as in the Complaint against the Appellee. On November 28, 2011, Appellee filed Preliminary Objections and an accompanying brief to the Amended Complaint. Appellant filed a brief in response to the Appellee's Preliminary Objections on December 23, 2011, and this matter was submitted for argument on January 3, 2012. In an Opinion dated March 27, 2012, this Court overruled Appellant's Preliminary Objections. Appellant then filed an Answer to Appellee's Amended Complaint on April 24, 2012. Thereafter the case was placed on the December 17, 2012 nonjury list.
Following a non-jury trial on December 18, 2012, this Court denied Appellant's claims for relief in an Order dated March 7, 2013. Subsequently, the Appellant filed Post-Trial Motions on March 8, 2013. The case was continued to the May 28, 2013 Argument List and given to the undersigned for disposition. Appellant's Post-Trial Motions were denied in an Order dated July 9, 2013. Appellant then filed the instant Notice of Appeal on July 24, 2013.
III. Matters Complained of on Appeal
Appellant filed a Notice of Appeal on July 24, 2013 to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania from the Order entered by this Court on July 9, 2013. Accordingly, on August 8, 2013, Appellant served upon this Court a 1925(b) Statement of Matters Complained Of. On Appeal, Appellant is pursuing the following issues:
1. "The Court committed an error of law in failing to give Appellant/Plaintiff credit for mortgage and home equity loan payments made by him."
2. "The Court committed an error of law in failing to give Appellant/Plaintiff credit for real estate tax payments made by him."
3. "The Court committed an error of law in failing to give Appellant/Plaintiff credit for hazard insurance payments made by him."
4. "The Court committed an error of law in failing to give Appellant/Plaintiff credit for the fair rental value of the property during Defendant's period of exclusive possession."
As discussed above, Appellant has asserted four issues in its Statement of Matters Complained Of. All issues are in regards to this Court's Order dated July 9, 2013 and therefore will be discussed together.
Appellant avers that this Court committed an error of law in failing to give Appellant credit for mortgage and home equity loan payments, real estate tax payments, hazard insurance payments, and the fair rental value of the property during Appellee's period of exclusive possession.
It has long been held that a joint tenancy with right of survivorship is created when the tenants obtain property in accordance with the four unities: time, title, interest and possession. Nicholson v. Johnston. 855 A.2d 97, 2004 Pa.Super. 279 (Pa.Super. 2004). A joint tenancy with right of survivorship gives co-tenants an undivided share of the whole estate. Id . (citing American Oil Co. v. Falconer. 136 Pa.Super. 598, 8 A.2d 418 (1939)). Further, a joint tenancy with right of survivorship is severed when more than one of the four unities is destroyed including when a co-tenant transfers their interest inter vivos. Nicholson. 855 A.2d 97, 2004 Pa.Super. 279.
In Nicholson, the parties were given credit for monies expended in purchasing property in contemplation of marriage. Id . The Court in that case found the down payment was a conditional gift contingent upon a marriage occurring and because the marriage did not occur, the party who extended the down payment was given credit for such. Id . However, Nicholson can clearly be distinguished from the instant case. In this case, the parties did not purchase the property in contemplation of marriage. The Appellant did not expend payments on the mortgage, real estate taxes or hazard insurance as a conditional gift contingent upon a marriage occurring. Rather, this Court found that the Appellant and Appellee owned the Property as joint tenants with the right of survivorship and were not at any time engaged to be married. Therefore, the credit of mortgage payments, taxes, hazard insurance payments and fair rental value of property during Appellee's period of exclusive possession was determined by this Court without taking into account the contemplation of marriage.
The evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the mortgage on the property was originally obtained in 1999 and was placed in both the Appellant's and Appellee's names. (N.T. 12/18/12, pg. 4-5, 44). The mortgage was refinanced in 2001 and transferred to the Appellant, after the parties had a falling out. (N.T. 12/18/12, pg. 5). Appellant further testified that he "paid the [Appellee] off with the funds that she was owed from the sale of the home. (Id.) In 2006, the Appellant deeded the property back to the Appellee, again making the parties joint tenants of the Property; however Appellant did not place the Appellee's name back on the mortgage. (N.T. 12/18/12, pg. 7). The Appellant testified that he and the Appellee had an understanding that in the event he (Appellant) predeceased the Appellee, she would become the sole owner of the Property. (N.T. 12/18/12, pg. 48). The Appellant paid the mortgage on the Property up until July 2011, when the Appellee took exclusive possession of the Property pursuant to Honorable Judge Daily's Court Order dated July 14, 2011. (N.T. 12/18/12 pg. 9).
Moreover, in 2006, the parties entered into a mutual agreement that the Appellee was going to raise the parties' two children and fulfill the duties of a "stay at home mom" while the Appellant undertook the responsibility as the family's sole bread winner, in that he would work and pay all of the bills associated with the home. (N.T. 12/18/12, pg. 49-53). Pursuant to this agreement, the Appellee left her job to stay home with the children and the Appellant continued to work and paid all of the associated household bills. (N.T. 12/18/12, pg. 80-81). Said agreement also included the mortgage, taxes, insurance and home equity loan. (N.T. 12/18/12, pg. 80-81). Further, there was no agreement that the Appellee was ever to reimburse the Appellant for the payments of the household expenses, as she was fulfilling the duties of child care for their children and did not have employment. (Id.)
Viewing the record in its entirety, and the evidence presented at trial, there was substantial evidence on the record for this Court to determine that the Appellant and the Appellee held the Property as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. Furthermore, in making this determination, this Court found the Appellant was not entitled to the full net proceeds from the sale of the Property. Accordingly, this Court properly entered the Order of July 9, 2013.