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Fulton v. Fulton

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 5, 2014

TILLIE F. FULTON, ADMINISTRATRIX d.b.n.c.t.a. OF THE ESTATE OF FERN O. FULTON, DECEASED, Appellant
v.
DONALD J. FULTON AND LORA F. FULTON, HIS WIFE; RONALD A. FULTON AND SYLVIA E. FULTON, HIS WIFE; AND ERNEST E. FULTON AND MYRNA C. FULTON, HIS WIFE, Appellees

Submitted July 21, 2014

Page 128

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Fayette County, Civil Division, G.D. No. 545 of 2011. Before VERNON, J.

William M. Martin, Uniontown, for appellant.

Kathleen A. Gustine, Charleroi, for Ernest Fulton, appellee.

David B. Reiss, Connellsville, for Donald and Ronald Fulton, appellees.

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., SHOGAN and ALLEN, JJ.

OPINION

Page 129

 SHOGAN, J.

Appellant, Tillie F. Fulton, as Administratrix de bonis non cum testamento annexo [1] (" Administratrix" ) of the estate of her mother-in-law, Fern O. Fulton (" Decedent" ), appeals from the January 22, 2014 order of the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas dismissing this case on the basis of laches. We affirm.

In an opinion denying Administratrix's motion for summary judgment, the trial court explained the basis of this suit, as follows:

The Plaintiff is the Administratrix of the Estate of Fern O. Fulton (the " Decedent" ). [Decedent passed away on June 26, 2008.] The Defendants [are sons] Donald J. Fulton and [his wife,] Lora F. Fulton, Ronald A. Fulton and [his wife,] Sylvia E. Fulton, and Ernest E. Fulton and [his wife,] Myrna C. Fulton . . . . [T]he Decedent's son and agent, Donald J. Fulton, . . . conveyed several properties owned by the Decedent . . . .
The facts of this case are not in dispute. The Decedent had six children,[2] including Marvin Fulton, who died on July 18, 2008, and [Appellees Donald J.] Fulton, Ronald A. Fulton, and Ernest E. Fulton. The Decedent's husband, Solomon L. Fulton, passed away on July 13, 1999. The Plaintiff is the Decedent's daughter-in-law and Marvin Fulton's widow.
On July 21, 1999, the Decedent executed a [power of attorney] POA naming [Donald] as her attorney-in-fact. The POA gave [him], inter alia, authority to exercise control over the Decedent's affairs regarding asset management, estate planning, medical procedures, admission into medical facilities and other health care decisions.
* * *
Using the POA, [Donald] began dividing up the family farm,[3] which was located in Springfield Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. [Donald] made

Page 130

the first conveyance on March 20, 2000. He conveyed 9.05 acres to himself and his wife, Lora F. Fulton.[4] [Donald] then conveyed 39.01 acres to himself and Lora two years later on March 25, 2002. That same day, [Donald] conveyed 32.21 acres to Ronald A. Fulton and [Ronald's] wife, Sylvia E. Fulton[,] and 29.61 acres to Ernest E. Fulton and his wife, Myrna C. Fulton. The conveyed parcels were owned by Decedent[,] and one dollar ($1.00) was paid in consideration for each of the properties.

Trial Court Opinion (Summary Judgment), 11/26/12, at 2-3.

On April 29, 2003, Decedent commenced an action at law against Donald, only,[5] in the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, in which she sought money damages in connection with the conveyances he made. Fulton v. Fulton, 952 of 2003, G.D. Decedent died five years later, on June 26, 2008, leaving a will that named Marvin as executor of her estate. Trial Court Opinion (Summary Judgment), 11/27/12, at 3. Marvin died one year later, on June 23, 2009. Administratrix's Brief at 6. Decedent's action at law was not litigated to conclusion before her death or Marvin's death, and the common pleas court ultimately dismissed that suit for lack of activity. Id.; Trial Court Opinion, 1/22/14, at 4. On February 9, 2011, Administratrix was appointed Administratrix d.b.n.c.t.a. of Decedent's estate. Order, 2/9/11: R.R. at 116a; Administratrix's Brief at 6.

Administratrix brought this action in equity against Donald and his wife, Lora, Ronald, and his wife, Sylvia, and Ernest, and his wife, Myrna, (collectively " Appellees" ) on March 9, 2011, seeking both that the conveyances be set aside and the imposition of a constructive trust upon the conveyed properties. Appellees filed an Answer, New Matter, and Counterclaim on June 1, 2011, and therein pled the affirmative defense that Administratrix's claims were barred by the doctrine of laches. On June 29, 2012, Administratrix filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied on November 27, 2012, after receiving briefs and holding oral argument. Thereafter, the parties filed pretrial statements in January and February 2013, and the trial court held a pretrial conference on March 18, 2013. On that date, the trial court entered an order directing the filing of briefs on the issue of laches and scheduled a hearing for May 22, 2013. The trial court entered an order on January 22, 2014, stating, in pertinent part, as follows: " [T]he doctrine of laches applies to bar the ...


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