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Johnson v. Tele-Media Company of McKean County

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 24, 2014

C. RUSSELL JOHNSON AND ANITA D. JOHNSON, HUSBAND AND WIFE
v.
TELE-MEDIA COMPANY OF MCKEAN COUNTY, AND ITS SUCCESSORS AND ASSIGNS, RAYMOND KLEISATH, ALBERTA KLEISATH AND TERI SPITTLER, APPEAL OF: RAYMOND KLEISATH, ALBERTA KLEISATH AND TERI SPITTLER

Submitted November 4, 2013

Page 737

Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, McKean County, Civil Division, No(s): 5 of 2013. Before HAUSER, J.

David B. Ross, Assistant District Attorney, Coudersport, for appellants.

D. Bruce Cahilly, Coudersport, for appellees.

BEFORE: BOWES, J., ALLEN, J., and LAZARUS, J. OPINION BY LAZARUS, J. BOWES, J., Files a Dissenting Opinion.

OPINION

Page 738

LAZARUS, J.

Raymond Kleisath, Alberta Kleisath and Teri Spittler (" Intervenors" ) appeal from the judgment entered in the Court of Common Pleas of McKean County on June 18, 2013. After careful review, we affirm.

By deed dated May 4, 1984 Terry Palmer, d/b/a Davis Cablevision, conveyed to Tele-Media Company of McKean County (" Tele-Media" ) a parcel of land located at the intersection of East and Main Streets in the Borough of Smethport, McKean County (" Property" ). Subsequently, by quitclaim deed dated January 17, 2012, Comcast of Colorado/Pennsylvania/West Virginia, LLC (" Comcast" ) conveyed the Property to C. Russell Johnson and Anita D. Johnson, husband and wife (" Johnsons" ). Comcast claims to be a successor in title to Tele-Media by virtue of merger, liquidation or acquisition, although there are no recorded conveyances of the Property from Tele-Media to Comcast. Both aforementioned deeds contained exception and reservation clauses granting right-of-way and sewer easements over a portion of the Property to J.L. Wirt and Cora A. Wirt and their heirs and assigns.

On January 2, 2013, the Johnsons filed a complaint to quiet title to the Property as to Tele-Media. Thereafter, Intervenors

Page 739

filed a petition to intervene in the quiet title action, alleging an interest in the Property " inasmuch as they are the heirs and assigns of Joseph L. and Cora A. Wirt referenced in said Deed and inasmuch as they have maintained the subject property over the years." Amended Petition to Intervene, 4/17/13, at ¶ 3. They also averred that they have " used the property openly, continuously, notoriously, adversely and exclusively." Id. at ¶ 5. Intervenors also filed preliminary objections to the Johnsons' complaint.

On March 12, 2013, the Johnsons filed a motion for order of court and decree nisi seeking entry of judgment against Tele-Media for failing to respond to their quiet title complaint. In response to a motion filed by Intervenors, by order dated March 19, 2013, the trial court stayed the proceedings pending disposition of the petition to intervene. A hearing on the Intervenors' petition was held on April 17, 2013. On April 26, 2013, the trial court entered orders dismissing Intervenors' petition and granting the Johnsons' action to quiet title.

Intervenors filed a timely notice of appeal of the April 26, 2013 orders on May 16, 2013. Subsequently, on June 24, 2013, Intervenors filed a second notice of appeal after final judgment was entered. By order dated July 10, 2013, this Court dismissed the first appeal and ordered that all issues raised in that appeal would be addressed in the instant appeal.

Preliminarily, the Johnsons have filed a motion to quash this appeal, asserting that the order denying intervention does not constitute a Final Order as defined under Pa.R.A.P. 341 and, therefore, is not appealable. They also assert that Intervenors lack standing to appeal, " since they are not parties to the litigation nor would their legal interest[s] be jeopardized through a denial of this appeal." Motion to Quash, 8/19/13, at 7. Here, however, judgment has been entered. Moreover, Intervenors have been aggrieved by the denial of their petition to intervene. See Pa.R.A.P. 501 (" [A]ny party who is aggrieved by an appealable order . . . may appeal therefrom." ). Accordingly, the appeal is proper.

Intervenors raise the following issues for our review:

1. Whether the [trial court] erred when it refused to allow [Intervenors] to [i]ntervene in an [a]ction to [q]uiet [t]itle when the record below clearly indicated [Intervenors] had an interest in the land that would be affected by a judicial determination of ownership, when [Intervenors'] interest in part of the land was expressed in deeds of record, when the [p]etition to [i]ntervene demonstrated that [Intervenors] claimed additional interests in the land by adverse possession, when no other party had filed and [a]nswer and [Intervenors'] interest[s] were not protected, and when the [Intervenors] sought to file preliminary objections to the [c]omplaint to [q]uiet [t]itle, which was improperly plead[?]
2. Whether the [trial court] incorrectly shifted the burden of proof to Intervenors when it conducted the hearing on [i]ntervention and when it treated such hearing as a final trial on the merits rather than limiting its inquiry to the statutory factors for intervention[?]

Brief of Appellants, at 5.

Whether to allow intervention is a matter vested in the discretion of the trial court and the court's decision will not be disturbed on appeal absent a manifest abuse of its discretion. Stenger, 554 A.2d at 956. A trial court will not be found to have abused its discretion unless the record discloses that its decision was

Page 740

manifestly unreasonable or was the result of partiality, prejudice, bias, or ill-will. Id.

Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 2327 governs who may intervene in a civil action and provides, in relevant part, as follows:

Rule 2327. Who May Intervene
At any time during the pendency of an action, a person not a party thereto shall be permitted to intervene therein, subject to these rules if
. . .
(3) such person could have joined as an original party in the action or could have ...

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