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Our Firm - Bugaj/Fischer Law Office, Honesdale, PA
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BUGAJ/FISCHER, P.C. is a general practice law firm located in Honesdale, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. As a general practice law firm, we handle a wide variety of matters in areas that include family law, civil litigation, criminal defense, real estate, appeals, and estate planning and administration. Located in northeastern Pennsylvania, we regularly appear in Wayne, Pike, and Lackawanna Counties, and have also appeared in Monroe, Susquehanna, Luzerne, Bradford, Schuylkill, Center, and Carbon Counties. We have also successfully litigated cases in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, and Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

See a detailed list of services provided by Bugaj/Fischer Law Office.

NEWS

BUGAJ/FISCHER WINS POWER OF ATTORNEY CASE

On August 30, 2016, the Pike County Court of Common Pleas issued an Order in a case that involved two dueling Powers of Attorneys made by the same man. The first was a Power of Attorney obtained by his wife shortly before she filed for divorce against him. This Power of Attorney was a pre-printed form that the wife obtained online and had her two sons take to her husband while he was in a nursing home in New Jersey. The man signed the Power of Attorney there, with no notary present. The sons then took the Power of Attorney to their mother, who in turn met with her friend who was a notary public and had her friend notarize the Power of Attorney - even though her friend never saw the man sign the Power of Attorney. The wife then used the Power of Attorney to liquidate stocks, pay her sons money, sell a car, and apply for a pension as her husband's beneficiary.

The second Power of Attorney was signed by the man after his wife filed for divorce against him, when he had his attorney prepare a new Power of Attorney naming his sister as his agent-in-fact. The sister then used the Power of Attorney to withdraw monies to pay for his expenses, and to change the beneficiaries on his pension and life insurance policy so that his wife was no longer the beneficiary.

The man passed away in December of 2013, and his sister was appointed as Executrix of his estate.

His sister then filed a lawsuit against both his wife and his wife's notary friend, alleging that the wife's Power of Attorney was invalid ab initio (from the beginning) and seeking compensation for the damages caused by the wife's use of the invalid Power of Attorney. The wife in turn filed a Counterclaim against the sister, alleging that the gentleman was not of sound mind when he signed the Power of Attorney in favor of his sister.

The validity of the wife's Power of Attorney turned on which state's law was used to determine the requirements for a Power of Attorney. Under the Power of Attorney statute currently in effect in Pennsylvania, the wife's Power of Attorney might have been considered valid because the statute arguably provided that Pennsylvania (rather than New Jersey) law should govern the requirements for a Power of Attorney, and Pennsylvania law did not require Power of Attorneys made at the time that the one in question was made to be notarized. However, using a prior version of Pennsylvania's Power of Attorney law that was in effect when the Power of Attorney was signed - which provided that a Power of Attorney signed in another state would be considered valid in Pennsylvania if it was signed in accordance with the laws of that state - Bugaj/Fischer successfully argued that it was New Jersey law that governed the validity of the Power of Attorney. Bugaj/Fischer then submitted a copy of the relevant New Jersey statute, which requires a Power of Attorney to be acknowledged by being signed in front of an appropriate authority, such as a notary public. The Court agreed that because the notary never saw the man sign the Power of Attorney, it was invalid as a matter of law.

The Court further determined that the wife and notary engaged in fraudulent activity by notarizing the Power of Attorney outside of the principal's presence. It directed that the notary pay the sister punitive damages, and that the wife file an accounting of her administration of the invalid Power of Attorney and repay the sister any monies that were not explicitly used for the man's benefit.

With respect to the sister's Power of Attorney, Bugaj/Fischer called the lawyer who prepared the document to testify to the man's sound state of mind when he signed the Power of Attorney. The Court accordingly concluded that the sister's Power of Attorney was properly obtained, and further concluded that the sister's actions in using the Power of Attorney were proper.

This case was tried by Ronald M. Bugaj, Esq. and briefed by Ronnie J. Fischer, Esq.

BUGAJ/FISCHER WINS CONTESTED ADOPTION CASE ON APPEAL

On July 22, 2016, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued an Opinion reversing the decision of the Orphans' Court of Lackawanna County regarding the adoption of a 4-year-old girl.

Bugaj/Fischer had filed a Petition for Adoption of the girl on behalf of a couple who have served as her foster parents for over 3 years. The girl had been removed from her mother and grandmother's home when she was only a few months old after someone put an alkaline cleaning product in her eyes. She was placed with the foster parents, who specialize in providing foster care to medically fragile children, shortly thereafter.

The child's grandmother filed a Counter-Petition for Adoption, also seeking to adopt the child.

At the hearing, Bugaj/Fischer presented substantial evidence in support of the foster parents' petition, including testimony from Children & Youth Services caseworkers and reports from the child's guardian ad litem and Court-Appointed Special Advocates, all of whom believed that it would be in the child's best interests to remain with her foster parents.

The Orphans' Court nonetheless issued an Order concluding that the grandmother should be permitted to adopt the child because she was a "blood relative" of the child.

Bugaj/Fischer appealed this decision to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, arguing that the Orphans' Court overemphasized the grandmother's status as a blood relative, did not engage in any analysis of the child's best interests, did not consider the child's special medical needs or emotional needs, and ignored the recommendations of Children & Youth Services, the child's guardian ad litem and the child's Court-Appointed Special Advocates.

The Superior Court agreed, and concluded that the Orphans' Court made a "significant error of law" and abused its discretion by failing to conduct a proper analysis of the child's best interest. The Superior Court noted that the Orphans' Court ignored the unrebutted evidence presented by Bugaj/Fischer that established that it was not in the child's best interest to grant the grandmother's Counter-Petition for Adoption. Because Bugaj/Fischer had fully developed the record in the Orphans' Court proceeding below, the Superior Court was able to avoid remanding the case back to the Orphans' Court for another hearing, and instead directed the Orphans' Court to issue an Order granting the foster parents' Petition for Adoption without further proceedings.

The Superior Court published its Opinion in this case (which it does in less than 10% of cases), which means that the case has become legal precedent in Pennsylvania. The Superior Court's Opinion can be found at 2016 PA Super 162.

This case was tried and briefed by Ronnie J. Fischer, Esq.