Tuesday, August 28, 2012

AOPC.org is Dead; Long Live PAcourts.us! Very Tweet!

By September, 2012, the original Internet address of Pennsylvania's Unified Judicial System -- www.aopc.org (which reflected the initials of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts) -- will be deactivated.

Through the summer, that web address already had redirected users automatically to the updated PA Unified Judicial System (Court) website -- www.pacourts.us. But, beginning in September, that redirection will end.  Those links will be "dead".

Regular users should change the web address in browser “favorites” from www.aopc.org to the successor Internet address -- www.pacourts.us

Local court administrators should check their local court rules for any references to the www.aopc.org website, and revise them.  The statewide court rules were already revised to accommodate this change via technical rule amendments.

This change will require me, over an extended span, to revisit old blog entries and update AOPC links, or else those links will be useless.  (Yea, I really look forward to that process.)  In the future, all links on this Blog will relate to the new website address.

There is another noteworthy technological development involving Pennsylvania's courts.  Around June, 2012, AOPC began "tweeting" (via the Twitter online service) notices of proposed rulemaking by the PA Supreme Court's various rule committees. These "tweets" complement the Prothonotary’s past tweets as to actual rule amendments.

For those interested in following the rules committees' proposals when issued, the Twitter account is: @SCOPARules. A general “follow us on Twitter” link appears on the court rules committees’ web page, as follows:

Follow us on Twitter @SCOPARules to receive notification of proposed rulemaking from the rules committees. For the latest available Pennsylvania Supreme Court dispositional orders and opinions, please follow @SupremeCtofPAFor press releases and general information about the Court please follow @PACourts.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Appeal Procedures from PA Orphans' Court Rewritten

Appeals from orders issued by the various Orphans' Court Divisions, of the Courts of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania, are governed, effective February 12, 2012, by revised procedural rules, which were further amended by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by order dated July 16, 2012.

A completely rewritten Rule 342 ("Appealable Orphans' Court Orders"), of the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure (Pa. R.A.P.), was adopted December 29, 2011, in conjunction with an amended PA R.A.P. Rule 311 ("Interlocatory Appeals as of Right") , by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, applicable to all Orphans’ Court orders entered forty-five days after that adoption.  See:  42 Pa. Bulletin 374 (01/12/12, PDF). 

On July 27, 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court order, dated July 16, 2012, amending both Pa.R.A.P. 311 and 342 and providing for further, minor changes, effective immediately, was submitted for publication to the Pennsylvania Bulletin. See: 42 Pa. Bulletin 4693 (07/28/12, PDF).

The collective revisions contemplate disputed matters in an "estate", "trust", or "guardianship" -- terms defined terms under subsection (b) of Rule 342 -- that have been resolved by a trial court order, from which appeal is sought by a party to Pennsylvania's appellate courts -- first, to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, or, if granted further, to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

These rule revisions address trial court-ordered dispositions that are appealable "as of right" from the Orphans' Court Division, as set forth in the revised Pa. R.A.P. 342:
General rule. An appeal may be taken as of right from the following orders of the Orphans’ Court Division:

(1) An order confirming an account, or authorizing or directing a distribution from an estate or trust;

(2) An order determining the validity of a will or trust;

(3) An order interpreting a will or a document that forms the basis of a claim against an estate or trust;

(4) An order interpreting, modifying, reforming or terminating a trust;

(5) An order determining the status of fiduciaries, beneficiaries, or creditors in an estate, trust, or guardianship;

(6) An order determining an interest in real or personal property;

(7) An order issued after an inheritance tax appeal has been taken to the Orphans’ Court pursuant to either 72 Pa.C.S. § 9186(a)(3) or 72 Pa.C.S. § 9188, or after the Orphans’ Court has made a determination of the issue protested after the record has been removed from the Department of Revenue pursuant to 72 Pa.C.S. § 9188(a); or

(8) An order otherwise appealable as provided by Chapter 3 of these rules. [Link added.]
The revised Official Note to Pa. R.A.P. 342 recounts the history since 1992 regarding orders appealable and the failed past efforts towards clarification, and then explains the situations sought to be remedied by the recent sweeping changes:
In 1992, the Supreme Court amended Rule 341 to make clear that, as a general rule, a final order is an order that ends a case as to all claims and all parties. Because of this amendment, many Orphans' Court orders that may have been considered constructive final orders prior to 1992 became unappealable interlocutory orders. Although some Orphans' Court orders were construed by case law to be appealable as collateral orders, see Estate of Petro, 694 A.2d 627 (Pa. Super. 1997), the collateral order doctrine was neither consistently applied nor was it applicable to other Orphans' Court orders that previously had been considered final under the ''final aspect'' doctrine. See, e.g. Estate of Habazin, 679 A.2d 1293 (Pa. Super. 1996).
In response, the Supreme Court revised Rule 342 that initially permitted appeals from Orphans' Court orders concerning distribution even if the order was not considered final under the definition of Rule 341(b). In 2001, Rule 342 was amended to also allow appeals from orders determining an interest in realty or personalty or the status of individuals or entities, in additional to orders of distribution, if the Orphans' Court judge made a determination that the particular order should be treated as final. In 2005, the Supreme Court amended Rule 342 again, adding subdivision (2) to clarify that Rule 342 was not the exclusive method of appealing Orphans' Court orders.
Also, in 2005, the Supreme Court amended Rule 311 to provide for an interlocutory appeal as of right from an order determining the validity of a will or trust. See former Rule 311(a)(8). Such an order needed to be immediately appealable and given finality so that the orderly administration of the estate or trust could proceed appropriately.
Since 2005, it has become apparent that other adversarial disputes arise during the administration of an estate, trust or guardianship, and that orders adjudicating these disputes also must be resolved with finality so that the ordinary and routine administration of the estate, trust or guardianship can continue. See Estate of Stricker, 602 Pa. 54, 63-64, 977 A.2d 1115, 1120 (2009) (Saylor, J., concurring). Experience has proven that the determination of finality procedure in subdivision (1) of Rule 342 is not workable and has been applied inconsistently around the Commonwealth. See id. (citing Commonwealth v. Castillo, 585 Pa. 395, 401, 888 A.2d 775, 779 (2005) (rejecting the exercise of discretion in permitting appeals to proceed)).
Experience has also proven that it is difficult to analogize civil litigation to litigation arising in estate, trust and guardianship administration. The civil proceeding defines the scope of the dispute, but the administration of a trust or estate does not define the scope of the litigation in Orphans' Court. Administration of a trust or an estate continues over a period of time. Litigation in Orphans' Court may arise at some point during the administration, and when it does arise, the dispute needs to be determined promptly and with finality so that the guardianship or the estate or trust administration can then continue properly and orderly. Thus, the traditional notions of finality that are applicable in the context of ongoing civil adversarial proceedings do not correspond to litigation in Orphans' Court.
In order to facilitate orderly administration of estates, trusts and guardianships, the 2011 amendments list certain orders that will be immediately appealable without any requirement that the Orphans' Court make a determination of finality. Orders falling within subdivisions (a)(1)—(7) no longer require the lower court to make a determination of finality. * * *
  The revised Official Note then explains in detail the substantive changes contained in revised PA. R.A.P. 342.  I cannot improve upon this concise and reliable explanation -- other than breaking up the text into shorter paragraphs and emphasizing the subdivision explanations; and so I quote, with highlighting and re-paragraphing applied:
Subdivisions (a)(1)—(7) list orders that are unique to Orphans' Court practice, but closely resemble final orders as defined in Rule 341(b). 
Subdivision (a)(1) provides that the adjudication of any account, even an interim or partial account, is appealable. Previously, only the adjudication of the final account would have been appealable as a final order under Rule 341. The prior limitation has proven unworkable for estate administration taking years and trusts established for generations during which interim and partial accounts may be adjudicated and confirmed. The remainder of subdivision (a)(1) permits appeals from orders of distribution as Rule 342 always has permitted since its initial adoption.
Subdivision (a)(2) is a new placement for orders determining the validity of a will or trust that previously were appealable as interlocutory appeals as of right following the 2005 amendment to Rule 311. See prior Rule 311(a)(8).
Subdivision (a)(3) is a new provision that allows an immediate appeal from an order interpreting a will or other relevant document that forms the basis of a claim asserted against an estate or trust. Such orders can include, among other things, an order determining that a particular individual is or is not a beneficiary or determining if an underlying agreement executed by the decedent during life creates rights against the estate.
Subdivision (a)(4) addresses trusts and is similar to subdivision (a)(3), but also permits immediate appeals from orders modifying, reforming or terminating a trust since such judicial actions are now permitted under 20 Pa.C.S. § 7740 et seq.
Subdivision (a)(5) is intended to clarify prior Rule 342 in several respects: First, an appealable Orphans' Court order concerning the status of individuals or entities means an order determining if an individual or entity is a fiduciary, beneficiary or creditor, such as an order determining if the alleged creditor has a valid claim against the estate. Second, such orders include orders pertaining to trusts and guardianships as well as estates. Finally, this subdivision resolves a conflict in prior appellate court decisions by stating definitively that an order removing or refusing to remove a fiduciary is an immediately appealable order.
Subdivision (a)(6) retains the same language from prior Rule 342.
Subdivision (a)(7) permits appeals of an Orphans' Court order concerning an inheritance tax appraisement, assessment, allowance or disallowance when such order is issued separately and not in conjunction with the adjudication of an account. Sections 9186 and 9188 of Chapter 72 provide three procedures, outside the context of an accounting, whereby either the personal representative or the Department of Revenue may bring before the Orphans' Court a dispute over inheritance taxes imposed. See also Estate of Gail B. Jones, 796 A.2d 1003 (Pa. Super. 2002) (analogizing a petition regarding the apportionment of inheritance taxes to a declaratory judgment petition given that an estate account had not yet been filed). A decision concerning inheritance taxes issued in conjunction with the adjudication of an account would be appealable under subdivision (a)(1). 
In keeping with the 2005 amendment that added subdivision (2) to prior Rule 342, subdivision (a)(8) tracks subdivision (2) of former Rule 342. Subdivision (2) was adopted in response to Estate of Sorber, 2002 Pa. Super. 226, 803 A.2d 767 (2002), a panel decision holding that Rule 342 precluded immediate appeals from orders that would have otherwise been appealable as collateral orders under Rule 313 unless the Orphans' Court judge made a determination of finality under Rule 342.
Subdivision (a)(8) makes clear that Rule 342, as amended, is still not the sole method of appealing an Orphans' Court order and an order not otherwise immediately appealable under Rule 342 may still be immediately appealable if it meets the criteria under another rule in Chapter 3 of these rules. Examples would include injunctions appealable under Rule 311(a)(4), Interlocutory Orders Appealable by Permission under Rules 312 and 1311, Collateral Orders appealable under Rule 313, and an order approving a final accounting which is a true final order under Rule 341. Whether or not such orders require certification or a further determination of finality by the trial court depends on the applicable rule in Chapter 3. Compare Rules 311(a)(4), 313 and 341(c) with Rules 312 and 1311.
The revised Official Note concludes with a stern warning about a failure, under Subsection (c) to appeal, which constitutes a "waiver of all objections" to an order:
Failure to appeal an order that is immediately appealable under subdivisions (a)(1)—(7) of this rule shall constitute a waiver of all objections to such order and may not be raised in any subsequent appeal. See Subdivision (c) of this Rule. The consequences of failing to appeal an Orphans' Court order under (a)(8) will depend on whether such order falls within Rules 311, 312, 313, 1311 or 341.
The revision amended Pa. R.A.P. Rule 311(g) under this concept, to provide as follows:
 (g) Waiver of objections.
       (1) Where an interlocutory order is immediately appealable under this rule, failure to appeal:
             (i) Under Subdivisions (a), (b)(2) or (f) of this rule shall not constitute a waiver of the objection to the order and the objection may be raised on any subsequent appeal in the matter from a determination on the merits.
            (ii) Under Subdivisions (b)(1) or (c) of this rule shall constitute a waiver of all objections to jurisdiction over the person or over the property involved or to venue, etc. and the question of jurisdiction or venue shall not be considered on any subsequent appellate review of the matter.
           (iii) Under Subdivision (e) of this rule shall constitute a waiver of all objections to such orders and any objection may not be raised on any subsequent appeal in the matter from a determination on the merits.
Don't forget another process perhaps necessary post-trial to protect appeal rights from an orphans' court's order -- "Exceptions" -- that may be applicable under local rules.  See:  Pa. Orphans' Court Rule 7.1.