Clingerman v Sadowski edited

Clingerman v. Sadowski, 513 Pa. 179 (1986) 519 A.2d 378 The following case is for Chapter 12 - The Law of Property 513 Pa. 179 Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Jacqueline Victoria CLINGERMAN, Executrix of the Estate of Anna M. Sadowski, deceased, Appellee, v. William B. SADOWSKI, Appellant. Decided Dec. 16, 1986. The issue in this appeal is whether the death of a tenant by the entireties, who has instituted an action for partition of the entireties property, operates to terminate the action and to vest the disputed property in the surviving tenant. On October 14, 1981, appellee's decedent, Anna M. Sadowski, filed a Complaint in Equity against appellant, William B. Sadowski, seeking equal division of all assets held by them as tenants by the entireties. The parties were married in 1936 and separated in May of 1980, whereupon Mrs. Sadowski left the marital residence to live with her daughter, Jacqueline Victoria Clingerman. In her complaint Mrs. Sadowski alleged that without her knowledge or consent appellant had in May of 1980 transferred their joint account at Gallatin National Bank, containing a balance of $326,000.00, into an account in his name alone and that since that time her husband had made substantial withdrawals from the account, refusing Mrs. Sadowski any access to the funds contained therein. Mrs. Sadowski further alleged that appellee had liquidated most of their model train collection [, a business venture], . . . worth approximately $500,000.00, and had secreted the money realized from the sale into a private account for his exclusive benefit, withholding the whereabouts of the unsold trains from Mrs. Sadowski. Mrs. Sadowski asked the court to order appellant to account for all funds jointly owned by the parties, as well as for all cash, coins, art, furniture and furnishings which may have been sold or removed from the marital residence since May of 1980. She additionally sought a permanent injunction to restrain appellant from further depleting joint assets, and an equal division of all funds improperly transferred or converted by appellant along with all other property owned by them as tenants by the entireties. Anna M. Sadowski died on May 16, 1982. The action was continued by her executrix, Jacqueline Victoria Clingerman, . . . appellee herein. Appellant subsequently moved for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the equity action had abated upon Mrs. Sadowski's death, and all the disputed property had passed to him as the surviving tenant by the entireties by operation of law. The motion was granted, and appellee's action was dismissed with prejudice. On appeal the Superior Court vacated and remanded, holding that appellee would be allowed to proceed as plaintiff and prosecute the equity action. . . . Appellant filed a petition for review which we granted in order to consider the question whether the death of a tenant by the entireties who has instituted an action in partition of the entireties property results in the abatement of the action and the passing to the surviving spouse of unrestricted title to the property. For the reasons which follow we hold that it does not. A tenancy by the entireties is a unique form of co- ownership grounded in the common law concept that husband and wife were but one legal entity. . . . A tenancy by the entireties is also characterized by the right of survivorship; upon the death of one spouse the survivor becomes the sole owner of the entireties property. . . . Because a tenancy by the entireties is grounded in the unity of the marital relationship, it can be severed only in certain limited circumstances. It is, of course, terminated upon the death of one of the co-tenants. During the parties' lifetimes it may be severed by: a joint conveyance of the estate. . . ; divorce . . . ; or mutual agreement, either express . . . or implied . . . . An implied mutual agreement to terminate a tenancy by the entireties was first recognized by this Court in Berhalter v. Berhalter, supra. In that case we concluded that the action of a wife, separated from her husband, in withdrawing substantial funds from their entireties bank account without her husband's knowledge for the purpose of moving to France was tantamount to an offer by her to the husband to destroy the entireties account. The husband's subsequent institution of suit for division of the fund constituted an acceptance of the offer. . . . 1
Clingerman v. Sadowski, 513 Pa. 179 (1986) 519 A.2d 378 In later cases we have reaffirmed the concept of an implied agreement to terminate a tenancy by the entireties resulting from a misappropriation of entireties property, such misappropriation consisting of an appropriation of entireties property for one co-tenant's exclusive use without the consent of the other co-tenant, followed by a suit for partition brought by the injured party. . . . We have also found that an implied agreement to partition exists where there has been an exclusion from the exercise or enjoyment of entireties property. . . . The essential issue in the case sub judice is the status of the entireties estate at the time of Mrs. Sadowski's death. Appellee makes the following argument: The tenancy by the entireties was terminated when Mrs. Sadowski filed the action for partition because it was at that point that the offer, signified by appellant's alleged misappropriation of entireties property, was accepted by Mrs. Sadowski. . . . Mrs. Sadowski was therefore entitled to partition of the entireties property prior to her death and, the tenancy having been severed, the entireties property did not pass to appellant upon her death. The partition action would accordingly survive. Appellant's response is that a tenancy by the entireties is not terminated upon the filing of the complaint for partition, but only upon a final judgment of partition. He argues that since his alleged misappropriation has not been proven, to hold that the estate was terminated upon his wife's filing of the complaint would be allowing her unilateral act, the filing of the complaint, to sever the estate. Case law is clear that a tenancy by the entireties cannot be severed by one party's unilateral action. Appellant contends that since his wife's death intervened before her allegation of wrongful misappropriation could be judicially determined, at the time of his wife's death he was seised of a tenancy by the entireties which, by operation of the right of survivorship, became his alone. The tenancy was terminated at that point and the partition action therefore did not survive. . . . We agree with appellant's contention that it would be premature to hold that the tenancy by the entireties terminated upon the filing of the equity action seeking, inter alia, partition. However, we cannot agree with appellant's conclusion that he was therefore seised of a tenancy by the entireties at the time of his wife's death at which point, pursuant to operation of law, all entireties property passed to him. The difficulty with the case sub judice is that it is not known what type of estate existed when Mrs. Sadowski died. It is clear that, for purposes of this case, the tenancy by the entireties would have terminated upon the occurrence of two things: a misappropriation and a corresponding request for partition. In the instant case we have the request for partition, containing an allegation of misappropriation, but we do not know if the misappropriation in fact occurred. We hold that under such circumstances, which raise a serious question as to whether the tenancy by the entireties was severed, the only correct result is to allow the action to continue in order to judicially determine whether the alleged misappropriation actually occurred. . . . If it did, there would have been an implied offer to terminate, accepted by the filing of the partition action, the entireties estate would have been severed, and partition would be warranted. . . . Should no misappropriation be found, there would be no implied agreement to terminate since there would have been no offer. A tenancy by the entireties would have existed at Mrs. Sadowski's death, upon which event all entireties property would have been automatically vested in appellant as surviving spouse. . . . Our decision today is merely a recognition that the controlling events which will determine the outcome of this lawsuit occurred prior to the death of the wife. Thus we are here concerned with the determination of the status of the estate prior to the moment of the death of the wife. The fortuitous timing of the demise of one of the spouses should not be permitted to prevent the executrix from establishing the true nature of the property as it existed before the death. If the tenancy by the entireties was in fact extinguished prior to the death of the wife, her estate is entitled to her interest in that property. Since we are here concerned with operative facts which are alleged to have occurred prior to death, the action appropriately survives . . . . The following Chapter 12 terms are related to this case: tenancy by the entirety 2
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