Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Morris v. Pennsylvania Treasury Department Bureau of Unclaimed Property

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

December 28, 2016

Walter B. Morris, Petitioner
v.
Pennsylvania Treasury Department Bureau of Unclaimed Property, Respondent

          Submitted: September 30, 2016

          BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge

          OPINION

          JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge

         Walter B. Morris (Claimant), pro se, petitions for review of an order of the Pennsylvania Treasury Department, Bureau of Unclaimed Property, under Article XIII.1 of The Fiscal Code, entitled Disposition of Abandoned and Unclaimed Property (Unclaimed Property Law), [1] that denied his claim for an escheated savings account. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         The property at issue here, Property ID No. 6382886, is a statement savings account in the amount of $688.33 in the names of Geraldine Morris and Brenda D. Coleman (Brenda Coleman) that was escheated to the Pennsylvania Treasury Department (Department). (Hearing Officer Decision Finding of Fact (F.F.) ¶1.) Claimant is the son of Geraldine Morris and the half-brother of Brenda Coleman. (Id. F.F. ¶¶2, 4.) Brenda Coleman was the daughter of Geraldine Morris and Calvin Coleman, who was not Claimant's father. (Id.) Geraldine Morris died in 1999. (Id. F.F. ¶3.) Brenda Coleman died on September 7, 2011. (Id. F.F. ¶4.) Calvin Coleman was alive at the time of Brenda Coleman's death and subsequently died on April 30, 2015. (Certified Record (C.R.) Item 16, Hearing Transcript (H.T.) at 4.)

         In 2006, before Brenda Coleman's death, Claimant wrote to the Department's Bureau of Unclaimed Property (Bureau) asserting that Geraldine Morris was deceased and that Brenda Coleman was an invalid unable to walk or talk, and seeking to claim Property ID No. 6382886 as Geraldine Morris's next of kin. (C.R. Item 1, Ex. B1.) The Bureau, in response, requested that Claimant provide a copy of a power of attorney for Brenda Coleman. (Id., Ex. B2; C.R. Item 16, H.T. at 4-5.) Claimant took no further action on this claim.

         In 2012, after Brenda Coleman's death, Claimant filed the claim at issue in this appeal, asserting that he is entitled to Property ID No. 6382886 as Geraldine Morris's sole surviving child. (C.R. Item 1 Exs. C1, D2.) On July 11, 2013, the Bureau denied the claim on the ground that Brenda Coleman's heir was entitled to the property because she was the last surviving owner. (Id. Ex. F2.) Claimant filed a further affidavit in support of this claim asserting that he was entitled to Property ID No. 6382886 as Brenda Coleman's heir because he was her brother. (Id. Ex. F1.) On July 31, 2015, the Bureau advised Claimant that the claim was denied for the reasons set forth in its July 11, 2013 denial letter. (Id. Ex. F3.) On August 24, 2015, Claimant filed a petition for review appealing the denial of his claim to the Department, and a hearing on the appeal was held on January 5, 2016 before a hearing officer. At this hearing, Claimant stipulated to the dates of death of Geraldine Morris, Brenda Coleman and Calvin Coleman. (C.R. Item 16, H.T. at 4.) Claimant also testified that Geraldine Morris was his mother and that Calvin Coleman was not his father. (Id. at 6-7.) Claimant did not make any claim or introduce any evidence at the hearing that Calvin Coleman was disqualified from inheriting from his daughter Brenda Coleman.

         On March 31, 2016, the hearing officer issued a decision denying Claimant's claim. The hearing officer held that Brenda Coleman became the sole owner of Property ID No. 6382886 when Geraldine Morris, the co-owner, predeceased her and that when Brenda Coleman died, the property passed to her father Calvin Coleman, who was alive at the time, as her heir. (Hearing Officer Decision at 5-7 & Conclusion of Law (C.L.) ¶3.) The hearing officer concluded that because Claimant was not Calvin Coleman's son, Claimant was not a person to whom Calvin Coleman's property passed when Calvin Coleman died and that Claimant therefore had no interest in Property ID No. 6382886. (Id. at 6-7 & C.L. ¶¶ 2, 4.) This appeal followed.[2]

         The burden of proof in an administrative proceeding under the Unclaimed Property Law is on the claimant to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he is entitled to the property that he seeks. Lepre v. Department of Treasury, (Pa. Cmwlth., No. 1186 C.D. 2012, filed March 4, 2013), slip op. at 5, 2013 WL 3960879 at *3; Estate of Dellenberger v. Bureau of Unclaimed Property, (Pa. Cmwlth., No. 2688 C.D. 2010, filed October 11, 2011), slip op. at 7, 2011 WL 10893868 at *3; see also Agostino v. Township of Collier, 968 A.2d 258, 269 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2009) (standard of proof in administrative proceedings is preponderance of the evidence). The hearing officer correctly concluded that Claimant failed to show that he has any entitlement to Property ID No. 6382886.

         Because the savings account was a joint account of Geraldine Morris and Brenda Coleman, Brenda Coleman became the sole owner of the funds in the account by right of survivorship when Geraldine Morris predeceased her. See Section 6304(a) of the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code, 20 Pa. C.S. § 6304(a) ("Any sum remaining on deposit at the death of a party to a joint account belongs to the surviving party or parties as against the estate of the decedent unless there is clear and convincing evidence of a different intent at the time the account is created"). When Brenda Coleman died in 2011, Property ID No. 6382886 passed to her heirs under Section 2103 of the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code. Under Section 2103, where there is no surviving spouse and decedent has no children, the decedent's property passes to her parents, not to her siblings. 20 Pa. C.S. § 2103(1)-(3).[3] Section 2103 expressly provides that property passes to the decedent's brothers and sisters only "[i]f no parent survives the decedent." 20 Pa. C.S. § 2103(3). As the hearing officer correctly concluded, because Brenda Coleman's father, Calvin Coleman, survived her, Property ID No. 6382886 passed to him and not to Claimant as Brenda Coleman's brother. Although Calvin Coleman is now deceased, Property ID No. 6382886 belongs to his estate. Claimant is not among the persons to whom Calvin Coleman's property passed under Section 2103 of the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code because Claimant is not a child of Calvin Coleman and is not a parent, brother, grandparent, or uncle of Calvin Coleman or a child or grandchild of any of his siblings, grandparents, uncles or aunts. 20 Pa. C.S. § 2103(1)-(5).

         Claimant argues that Calvin Coleman's right to inherit from Brenda Coleman's estate is barred because he allegedly abandoned and failed to support her. This argument fails for lack of evidence. Section 2106(b) of the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code provides that

[a]ny parent who, for one year or upwards previous to the death of the parent's minor or dependent child, has:
(1) failed to perform the duty to support the minor or dependent child or who, for one year, has deserted the minor or dependent child …
shall have no right or interest under this chapter in the real or personal estate of the minor or dependent child. The determination under paragraph (1) shall be made by the court after considering the quality, nature and extent of the parent's contact with the child and ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.