The legal term quiet title refers to a lawsuit that is brought to resolve issues with a title to real property, or personal property that has a title, making it possible to sell or buy the property. It is called an action to “quiet” title because, in establishing who the proper owner of the title is, the lawsuit “quiets” any challenges to that title. An action to quiet title is also brought to give the plaintiff peace of mind that the title will be forever free of claims that could be made against the property. To explore this concept, consider the following quiet title definition.
Definition of Quiet Title
- A lawsuit that establishes the true owner of a title to a parcel of real property, or to an item of personal property that has a title.
Origin of Title
Mid First Century A.D. Late Latin titulum
What is a Property Title
The term “property title” refers to the rights that a person holds to a piece of property. A property title can be legally held by one person, or a person can share the title with others. A property title is exhibited by a physical document – like a deed or title – that works as proof of the title holder’s rights to that piece of property. Title is different from possession of the property. Simply owning the title to a piece of property does not mean the individual possesses it. Indeed, another person may be in possession of it, whether he is legally entitled to possess the property or not.
Typically, in a property purchase transaction, clear ownership of title is established by a title insurance company in its drafting of a title report. Title reports show the history of the title insofar as all the prior holders to that title, as well as any lienholders, as shown by the recorded deeds in the public record.
The title report, or title search, also shows any easements or liens that may have been placed on the property. Title insurance companies conduct title searches to confirm that the titles to the properties they are about to insure are clean and free of any encumbrances. If a dispute is found, then the insured party will be reimbursed.
Some of the rights that the title holder to a property is entitled to include:
- Farming rights
- Hunting rights
- Water rights
- Development rights (the right to develop the property under specified restrictions)
Quiet Title Action
A quiet title action is a lawsuit that is filed to establish ownership of a piece of property for which the title is not clear. The property includes the land itself, as well as any buildings that may be attached to that land. For example, a quiet title action is brought by a plaintiff who wants to obtain a court order that prevents another person from staking a claim to the property.
Quiet title actions are important because real estate can change ownership quickly and often – sometimes without filing the appropriate documents with the county. This makes it difficult to determine who is, in fact, the owner of the property’s title.
A quiet title action is also often referred to as a “suit to remove a cloud.” A cloud is any claim or potential claim that a person may make to ownership of the property. The person can claim full or partial ownership. If he claims partial ownership, this would be in the form of a lien that is made out to an amount that does not exceed the total value of the property. A property’s title is “clouded” if the plaintiff expects to defend his full ownership of the property in court at some point in the future.
Example of a quiet title action:
Rachel agrees to sell her property, but dies before the sale can be finalized. In her will, Rachel left the property to her niece, Sandra. In this case, both Sandra and the potential buyer are justified in filing a quiet title action, though only one lawsuit needs to be filed, because each of them has a valid claim to that piece of property. The courts can then help determine who should be the rightful title holder, or if the title should be divided equally between them.
States have different laws insofar as quiet title actions. Some states have quiet title statutes, while others allow courts to make their own rules as quiet title actions come up. In most cases, the plaintiff in a quiet title action must be in possession of the property to bring the action. However, many state statutes do not require this, and in some states the possession of the property is considered irrelevant.
It is commonly accepted that in a quiet title action, a plaintiff bears the responsibility of proving that he owns the title to the property. Even if he is not the sole owner of the title, the plaintiff may still be entitled to bring the action as a partial owner, so long as his interest in the title is valid and the interest of the person responding is not.
Grounds for a Quiet Title Action
The grounds for a quiet title action are found in complaints alleging that the title to a piece of property is defective for some reason. Some of the more common grounds for a quiet title action include the following:
- Boundary disputes between states, cities, or private citizens
- Errors committed during the surveying of the property
- Errors in the property’s deed, or in the legal description
- Fraudulent transfer of ownership of the property, such as by the forging of a deed
- Competing claims from lien holders
Typically, the grounds for a quiet title action make up the foundation of a lawsuit that is brought when the owner of a title is ambiguous. This means that it may not be clear who exactly holds the title to the property, and therefore it is necessary to bring the issue before the courts to establish rightful ownership. Once the court has determined who actually owns the property – who rightfully holds its title – a new title will be made and filed with the county recorder. This forms a new starting point for transferring the property to a new owner.
Quiet Title Example Involving Forged Deeds
An example of a quiet title action began in 1974, when Elsie Veatch passed away, leaving her property to Raymond Wesley Veatch, Jr., her father. Raymond died on March 20, 2006. After Raymond’s death, two forged deeds were recorded in the deed records of Fulton County. In these forged deeds, title was improperly transferred to man by the name of Antonio Simpson.
After both forged deeds were executed and recorded, a deed was recorded on November 8, 2006 that transferred the deed from Simpson to another man, Darryl Matthews. Matthews used the deed to take out a loan for more than $187,000 with First Magnus Financial Corporation, and the deed was eventually assigned to Aurora Loan Services, LLC.
One of the forged deeds was supposedly executed on May 19, 2006 by Elsie who, by that point, had already been dead for more than 30 years. This deed was obviously false. The other was supposedly executed by Raymond on March 15, 2006, which was also impossible because on that date, Raymond was lying in a coma.
John Macrelay Veatch, a personal representative of Raymond’s estate, and the person to whom the property should have been transferred upon Raymond’s death, discovered these forged deeds on September 5, 2007. He immediately filed an affidavit with the Fulton County land records stating that both deeds were false, and filed a petition with the court to quiet title. The trial court appointed a Special Master, which is a representative of the court who hears evidence on the judge’s behalf and makes recommendations to the judge insofar as how to handle the matter.
The Special Master concluded that Aurora was a legitimate purchaser of the deed, however the trial court disagreed. The court found that, because the deed was forged and therefore fraudulent, it was null and void and could not legally transfer title to anyone. Aurora appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Georgia, which affirmed the trial court’s decision.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that a forged deed is meaningless, and cannot transfer title to anyone. Even a real and valid purchaser who paid good money for the property cannot be granted good title by a forged deed. Because of this,
The Court held that the title to the property should indeed be vested in Veatch as the personal representative of Raymond’s property. Further, the Court held that the title was unencumbered by the security deed that Aurora had held due to the deed being invalid in the first place.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
- Easement – The right to use someone else’s land for a specific purpose.
- Lien – A charge that is placed upon a person’s property to ensure that the property owner satisfies a debt he owes to another person or entity.
- Personal Property – Any item that is moveable and not fixed to real property.
- Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
- Real Property – Land and property attached or fixed directly to the land, including buildings and structures.
- Survey – An assessment that is conducted to determine the exact amount of land that is owned by the property owner.