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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dead Man's Chest: Pennsylvania Court Considers Applicability of Dead Man's Statute in Interpleader Action

42 Pa. Cons.Stat. § 5930 states that

Except as otherwise provided in this subchapter, in any civil action or proceeding, where any party to a thing or contract in action is dead, or has been adjudged a lunatic and his right thereto or therein has passed, either by his own act or by the act of the law, to a party on the record who represents his interest in the subject in controversy, neither any surviving or remaining party to such thing or contract, nor any other person whose interest shall be adverse to the said right of such deceased or lunatic party, shall be a competent witness to any matter occurring before the death of said party or the adjudication of his lunacy, unless the action or proceeding is by or against the surviving or remaining partners, joint promisors or joint promisees, of such deceased or lunatic party, and the matter occurred between such surviving or remaining partners, joint promisors or joint promisees and the other party on the record, or between such surviving or remaining partners, promisors or promisees and the person having an interest adverse to them, in which case any person may testify to such matters; or, unless the action is a possessory action against several defendants, and one or more of said defendants disclaims of record any title to the premises in controversy at the time the suit was brought and also pays into court the costs accrued at the time of his disclaimer, or gives security therefor as the court in its discretion may direct, in which case such disclaiming defendant shall be a fully competent witness; or, unless the issue or inquiry be devisavit vel non, or be any other issue or inquiry respecting the property of a deceased owner, and the controversy is between parties respectively claiming such property by devolution on the death of such owner, in which case all persons shall be fully competent witnesses.

In other words, 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. § 5930 is Pennsylvania's version of a dead man's statute, which is (literally) a dying breed. But did the statute apply in Jackson Nat. Life Ins. Co. v. Heyser, 2013 WL 5278240 (E.D.Pa. 2013)?

Heyser was an interpleader action filed by Jackson National Life Insurance Company to determine the proper recipient of an annuity. Before trial, John E. Heyser, the executor of the decedent's will, filed a motion in limine seeking to preclude consideration of any testimony or declarations from two claimants pursuant to 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. § 5930. In response, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania noted that

In order for the [Dead Man's] Act to apply, three conditions must exist: "(1) the deceased must have had an actual right or interest in the matter at issue; (2) the interest of the witness-not simply the testimony-must be adverse; and (3) a right of the deceased must have passed to a party of record who represents the deceased's interest."

The court then found that these conditions in fact did exist and thus granted Heyser's motion, concluding that

The protections of the Dead Man's Act are “highly technical” and may be “easily waived” by the protected party....The common law principle on waiver is clear: “a decedent's representative waives the Act by taking the deposition of or requiring answers to interrogatories from an adverse party, whether or not he places the results of such discovery on the record.”... Where, however, the estate refrains from engaging in such discovery, the waiver principle is not implicated....Nor does the estate bear the responsibility of raising the Act “on every conceivable pretrial occasion when inquiries are made of an adverse party,” so long as it is not the Estate that has made the inquiries....
In the present case, all three conditions for application of the Act have been met. Decedent Keen had an actual right or interest in the proceeds of his life insurance annuity. Claimants Alt and Juliano have an adverse interest to the proceeds of the annuity against the Keen's estate. Finally, Keen's right has passed to Executor John E. Heyser, who is a party of record in this litigation.
-CM

 

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