Wolf v. Wolf

Decision Date02 September 1986
Citation514 A.2d 901,356 Pa.Super. 365
PartiesRodney M. WOLF v. Gail Marie WOLF v. John E. WOLF and Grace V. Wolf. Appeal of Rodney M. WOLF and John E. Wolf and Grace V. Wolf.
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Larry W. Wolf, Hanover, for appellants.

Walton V. Davis, Gettysburg, for appellee.

Before CIRILLO, President Judge, and TAMILIA and HESTER, JJ.

CIRILLO, President Judge:

This is an appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Adams County which dismissed appellants' exceptions and adopted the master's report regarding equitable distribution in bifurcated proceedings in an action for divorce. Judgment was entered upon praecipe in the amount of $6,927.55 in favor of defendant-appellee Gail Raab Wolf and against additional defendants-appellants John and Grace Wolf (hereinafter "parents"), and in favor of defendant-appellee and against plaintiff-appellant Rodney Wolf in the amount of $2,767.58 plus specified items of personalty. This timely appeal followed.

Rodney and Gail became engaged to be married in March 1976. The actual marriage occurred three and one-half years later in October, 1979. During their long engagement, Rodney and Gail both began collecting household items in contemplation of marriage. All of the items purchased prior to marriage subsequently became the property of the marital entity.

In July, 1977, over a year after Rodney and Gail became engaged, Rodney approached his father and informed him that he wished to buy a home but was unable to obtain financing from a bank. Rodney's parents then purchased the home Rodney and Gail had previously inspected. The parents obtained a mortgage for 100 percent of the purchase price for which they put up their own home as collateral. Rodney and Gail have had exclusive possession of the house since the date of purchase. Though the couple did not move in until after their marriage, both Rodney and Gail did extensive work on the house in preparation for their eventual occupancy.

The couple made a number of substantial and costly improvements to the home both before and after their marriage. Prior to their marriage, they installed new aluminum siding, a well pump, kitchen and bathroom floors, insulation, kitchen cabinets, a suspended ceiling in the master bedroom, and a textured ceiling in the kitchen. After the pair married and moved into the home, they restored the foundation wall in the basement, installed new garage doors and electric door openers, and landscaped the surrounding yard area. The total cost of these improvements was approximately $15,555.00. Both Rodney and Gail contributed to payment of this bill.

In addition to these substantial improvements, Rodney and Gail were also responsible for all expenses associated with the maintenance of the home: mortgage payments, taxes, utilities, insurance, and settlement costs. None of the purchase price nor any expense related to ownership of the property was paid by John and Grace Wolf, Rodney's parents and the titled owners.

Upon the master's recommendations, the trial court determined that the facts of this case warranted the imposition of a resulting trust in favor of Rodney and Gail. In addition, the court found that the parents would be unjustly enriched if they were permitted to retain the property without compensating Gail for her contributions to the improvements. Noting that both Gail and Rodney treated the property as their own, the court held that unjust enrichment would occur if the parents were to reap the benefits of the mortgage payments and improvements without reimbursing Gail. We agree; and accordingly, we affirm.

Appellants raise a number of issues on appeal: 1) whether Section 301 of the Divorce Code, 23 P.S. § 301, confers jurisdiction upon a master in divorce to recommend, and the trial court to confirm, a judgment imposing a resulting trust against real estate titled in the name of individuals who are not parties to the divorce action; 2) whether the trial court's adoption of the master's findings of fact support a judgment imposing a resulting trust against real estate titled in the name of additional parties; 3) whether the master's findings of fact adopted by the trial court support a judgment of unjust enrichment against the parents as additional parties; and 4) whether the trial court abused its discretion in compelling Rodney to submit to either of two buy-out options: a) pay Gail 50 percent of the value of all personal property in Rodney's possession, or b) sell all the personal property and pay Gail one-half of the proceeds.

We will first address the fundamental question of jurisdiction. The parents contend that Section 301 of the Divorce Code does not allow a court hearing a divorce action to hear claims of unjust enrichment or resulting trust against individuals not parties to the divorce. The parents allege that the master clearly exceeded his authority when he recommended the imposition of a resulting trust which radically affected their rights in the real property.

A review of the Rules of Civil Procedure and various sections of the Divorce Code indicates otherwise. Section 301 of the Divorce Code is the jurisdictional provision and it states in pertinent part:

(a) The courts of this Commonwealth ... shall have original jurisdiction in cases of divorce....

23 P.S. § 301. In addition, subsection (a)(5) provides that the court has jurisdiction over "[a]ny other matters pertaining to such ... divorce ... authorized by law and which fairly and expeditiously may be determined and disposed of in such action." 23 P.S. § 301(a)(5) (emphasis added). Based on the fact that Gail's claims for equitable distribution, resulting trust, and unjust enrichment directly hinged upon determination of the status of the property into which Gail and Rodney moved after their marriage, the matter was closely related to and obviously pertained to the divorce action. The nature of the parents' interest in the property needed to be resolved so that the property rights of Rodney and Gail could be determined. In addition, the matter was fairly determined in the divorce action. The additional parties, the parents, were free to present evidence and were afforded the same protections as had the claims for resulting trust and unjust enrichment been maintained separately. The parents had the opportunity to be heard and to question Gail.

Rule 1920.34 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure provides additional support. This rule states in pertinent part:

At any state of an action, the court may order the joinder of any additional person who could have joined or been joined in the action and may stay the proceedings in whole or in part until such person has been joined.

Pa.R.C.P. 1920.34 (Joinder of Parties--Divorce or Annulment Actions).

The note to this rule, states: "The joinder of persons other than husband and wife may be essential in claims ... where persons other than the parties have an interest in property which is the subject matter of distribution." Pa.R.C.P. 1920.34 Note. Most of us do not operate in a vacuum. Therefore, even in divorce actions, which for the most part involve a husband and wife, situations arise when the divorce affects not only the children of the parties but those individuals with whom the parties own real estate or operate a business. Obviously, the rights of these people must be protected. In addition, one spouse may not use the existence of these individuals on the periphery as a shield against fulfillment of his divorce obligation, such as child support, alimony, or equitable distribution.

While it is clear from our reading of the above-cited provisions that Adams County had jurisdiction over the parents as additional parties and was free to determine the claims of unjust enrichment and resulting trust, the question that now arises is whether the master in divorce had the authority to make recommendations concerning such issues. Appellants contend that the master lacks the authority to recommend a judgment imposing a resulting trust against the real estate of additional individuals not parties to the divorce.

We disagree. Rule 1920.51 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure clearly provides:

(a)(1) The court may hear the testimony or, upon its own motion or the motion of either party, may appoint a master with respect to all or any of the matters specified in subdivision (a)(2)(i) to hear the testimony and return the record and transcript of the testimony to the court, together with a report and...

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