Pennsylvania Company v. Youngman

Decision Date19 March 1934
Docket Number169
Citation314 Pa. 277,171 A. 594
PartiesPennsylvania Company, Executor, Appellant, v. Youngman et al
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Argued January 30, 1934

Appeal, No. 169, Jan. T., 1934, by plaintiff, from decree of C.P. Delaware Co.-1910, No. 394, in case of The Pennsylvania Company for Insurances on Lives & Granting Annuities executor, v. Margaret Heebner Youngman, defendant, and Delaware County Trust Co., garnishee. Judgment reversed and new trial awarded.

Attachment sur judgment. Before HENDERSON, J., specially presiding.

The opinion of the Supreme Court states the facts.

Verdict directed in favor of garnishee and judgment entered thereon. Plaintiff, executor of Thomas J. Meagher, deceased, appealed.

Error assigned, inter alia, was judgment, quoting record.

Judgment reversed and new trial awarded.

John E. McDonough, with him Joseph E. Pappano and R. Paul Lessy, for appellant. -- Where a party has a debt against another evidenced by a specialty or a record, and to which no statute of limitations applies, the burden of proving it unpaid is not thrown upon him who claims it, even in a suit brought more than twenty years after it becomes payable, if within twenty years a fair effort, though an unsuccessful one, has been made to recover it by suing out legal process for that purpose: James v. Jarrett, 17 Pa. 370; Miller's Est., 243 Pa. 328; Croskey v. Croskey, 306 Pa. 423; Gilmore v. Alexander, 268 Pa. 415.

Evidence of inability to pay is sufficient to rebut the presumption of payment. See Gilmore v. Alexander, 268 Pa. 415; Coleman v. Trust Co., 255 Pa. 63, which are very much like the case in point.

The presumption does not arise while the debtor lives outside the State upon the theory that no action could be taken against them in this State to recover the judgment: Coleman v. Trust Co., 255 Pa. 63.

There is no limitation to the lien of an attachment execution against the interest of a defendant in the real estate of a decedent: Neely v. Grantham, 58 Pa. 433.

J. H. Ward Hinkson, for appellee. -- After the elapse of twenty years a judgment is presumed to have been paid: Peter's App., 106 Pa. 340; Hummel v. Lilly, 188 Pa. 463.

The legal presumption arising from lapse of time is alone sufficient to defeat a recovery, if no promise to pay or no payment on account has been made within twenty years: Hummel v. Lilly, 188 Pa. 463; Ott v. Ott, 311 Pa. 130.

The burden of removing the presumption of payment is on the plaintiff: Hummel v. Lilly, 188 Pa. 463; Sheafer v. Woodside, 257 Pa. 276; Lefever's Estate, 278 Pa. 196.

The evidence must be clear, convincing and satisfactory, to justify a conclusion that the debt in question was not in fact paid: Fidelity Title and Trust Co. v. Chapman, 226 Pa. 312; Camp v. John, 259 Pa. 38, 41.

Whether the facts relied upon to rebut a presumption of payment are true is for the jury; but whether, if true, they are sufficient is for the court: Peter's Appeal, 106 Pa. 340; Camp v. John, 259 Pa. 38.

Before FRAZER, C.J., SIMPSON, KEPHART, SCHAFFER, MAXEY, DREW and LINN, JJ.

OPINION

MR. JUSTICE LINN:

The parties to this appeal are the executor of a judgment creditor of the defendant, Mrs. Youngman, and a garnishee, which, at the time of the trial, had money payable to the defendant under a will. [1] The learned court below directed a verdict for the garnishee on the ground that plaintiff had not rebutted the presumption of payment, or shown that it was not applicable to the judgment. Appellant, on the other hand, contends that it was entitled to binding instructions, or, in any event, that the evidence should have been submitted to the jury.

The judgment was entered on a single bill September 17, 1910. On the same day attachment-execution issued, and was served on the garnishee. It was returned nihil habet as to defendant. March 26, 1913, interrogatories were filed and served; they were answered April 11, 1913. [2]

The garnishee was trustee under the will of Mrs. Youngman's grandfather, D. Reese Esrey; her interest in his estate was contingent: she took nothing unless she survived her father. He died December 25, 1930. The trustee filed its account in September, 1931. At the adjudication, a sum was set aside to abide the suit. Promptly thereafter, the garnishee was notified that the case would be put down for trial. October 3, 1931, the garnishee pleaded nulla bona and presumption of payment. The case was reached for trial May 10, 1932.

No testimony was offered on behalf of the garnishee, or on behalf of the defendant. During the period involved, she was a nonresident of this state; although she had notice that the attachment was being pressed, she did not appear at the trial. The learned trial judge, in his opinion, filed under Rule 58, thus summarized evidence offered to prove nonpayment: "The plaintiff, Thomas J. Meagher, died March 17, 1931, and secretaries employed by him, one from 1915 until 1923, and the other from 1922 until the date of his death, testified they would have had knowledge of the payment to the plaintiff of the debt had any been made and that no such payment was made. There was also the testimony of an Assistant Trust Officer of The Pennsylvania Company for Insurances on Lives and Granting Annuities, executor of the estate of the plaintiff, to the effect that no money had come into the hands of the executor since his death as far as he knew and as far as the records disclosed. There was also testimony tending to show that the defendant, Margaret Heebner Youngman, was without any other estate than that coming to her under the Esrey Trust, and that she was, therefore, without means of paying the debt."

A vice-president of the garnishee testified that, when served, he "presumed" that he notified defendant's counsel of the service; in May, 1931, he wrote to defendant: "As you will remember, there are some old attachments against these funds [her contingent interest in her grandfather's estate]. The one is by Thomas James Meagher against you, No. 394 June Term, 1910. This attachment is against your share of the trust. . . . In due course, we will have our attorneys endeavor to have these attachments removed. We do not know what merit they have. Attachments usually bind until payment. . . . As we recall, the attachments were not pressed against your father's income because of the spendthrift trust in your father's will. You may have some personal knowledge in reference to these attachments. If so, please give us any information you can about them. . . ." She subsequently called on him and "employed counsel, who conferred with the attorney for the estate." She did not "say whether or not she had paid" this judgment; part of her distributive share of the trust fund was set aside to abide this suit after "we took it up between our attorney and her attorney"; "she of course knew it was withheld." On July 1, 1931, the vice-president advised her: ". . . our attorneys examined the proceedings in connection with the attachments. They hope to be able to have the attachments removed without going into the question of merit. They are working to this end. We will later advise you as to our success in the proceedings." On September 1, 1931, he wrote: "Our Attorneys . . . are pushing as fast as possible the removal of the attachments. We will keep in touch with your Attorney about these proceedings." On November 16, 1931, he sent her a check on account, stating that an award had been made to her "less $4,000, to be retained to answer attachment."

Appellant contends that it appears by the prosecution of the claim, as disclosed by the record and the evidence, that the presumption does not arise; that the circumstances in evidence account for the delay. See Foulk v. Brown, 2 Watts 209, 214; Reed v. Reed, 46 Pa. 239, 242; Coleman v. Erie Trust Co., 255 Pa. 63, 65, 99 A. 217. When the attachment execution issued, defendant's contingent interest could not be seized: Patterson v. Caldwell, 124 Pa. 455, 17 A. 18; but, from the time it vested, it became subject to the attachment, like any other property afterward coming into the hands of the garnishee prior to the trial: Frazier v. Berg, 306 Pa. 317, 325, 159 A. 541. Defendant did not plead to the writ, or move to dissolve for laches in prosecution, irregularity, or for any other reason. It, therefore, remained alive as a continuous assertion of...

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