What is a Motion to Determine Title in a Quiet Title Action?

Underwood-Blog-Images-1-2-300x300A motion to determine title is a motion to the court requesting that the court establish title to a piece of real property. Typically, a motion to determine title shows up in the court as a quiet title action. A quiet title action is brought when a litigant seeks to establish that they have an ownership interest in the subject property and refute any adverse claims against the litigant. It follows that to prevail on a motion to determine title; one must show that they hold some ownership interest in the subject property. 

The law surrounding a motion to determine title is codified in Code of Civil Procedure section 760.030. Under section 760.030, when establishing or quieting title is in issue in an action or proceeding, the court may, upon motion of any party, require that the issue be resolved pursuant to the provisions of the code of civil procedure relating to quiet title actions. (CCP § 760.030.) At Underwood Law Firm, our attorneys are more than familiar with partition actions and the step-by-step process of pursuing a partition. 

What is a Quiet Title Action

A quiet title action is an action seeking to have the court declare who holds an ownership interest in a piece of real property. Essentially, a quiet title action seeks to establish title against any adverse claims to the subject property. (CCP § 760.020.) In order to prevail on a quiet title action, a litigant must provide evidence that they hold an ownership interest in the subject property. 

For example, “Hannah” and “Nathan” are former romantic partners. During their relationship, Nathan bought a house in Riverside for them to live in together. Nathan and Hannah never discussed it, but Hannah always assumed that the house was theirs together. Usually, Nathan was responsible for the expenses of the house, and Hannah took responsibility for the maintenance of the house. One day, Hannah and Nathan got into a huge fight, and Hannah came home to see all of her stuff packed up in boxes and suitcases with a note telling her to get out of the house. Hannah was delirious and anxious about finding a place to live, so she contacted her friend, who is a lawyer, “Amanda,” to see if she had a right to the Riverside house. Amanda explained to her that typically when a person is trying to establish an ownership interest in a piece of real property, they will file a quiet title action to establish title; however, in Hannah’s case, Hannah never held any ownership interest in the home, and therefore, she would not be able to quiet title. 

What is the remedy in a Quiet Title Action?

The remedy in a quiet title action is not exclusive of any other remedy, and it can be combined with other causes of action and remedies. (CCP § 760.030(a).)  Therefore, a quiet title action may be pursued in connection with other causes of action or remedies to establish title to real property. 

For example, Jensen v. Quality Loan Service Corp. is a mortgage fraud case that involved a quiet title action. In Jensen, Plaintiff brought a quiet title claim against all Defendants claiming that title to the subject property has been rendered unmarketable due to the fraud of the Defendants. (Jensen v. Quality Loan Service Corp. (2010) 702 F.Supp.2d 1183, 1198.) In turn, the Defendants argued that the quiet title claim should be dismissed because it is duplicative of the Plaintiff’s fraud claim and does nothing to afford the Plaintiff additional or different relief. (Id.) The court held that based on Code of Civil Procedure section 760.030, the remedy provided in a quiet title action is cumulative. Therefore the statutory quiet title action does not exclude the use of other actions provided by law to establish or quiet title to the property. (Id.) 

Establishing Title

In order to prevail on a motion to determine title, a litigant must be able to establish that they have a title. This means that a litigant must be able to prove that they are an owner of the subject property. In most cases, it is easy to prove that a litigant has an ownership interest in the subject property because their name is identified on the Grant Deed of the property. 

However, in some cases, a litigant’s ownership interest is more obscure. For example, if “Pam” and “Ariella” are two sisters that bought a condo in Los Angeles. Pam’s name is the only name on the Grant Deed for the condo; however, Arielle contributed half of the expenses during the purchase of the condo. Ariella and Pam also agreed that they owned the condo together. After a big fight, Ariella and Pam do not talk anymore. If Ariella wants to file a quiet title action for the condo, she must prove that her funds were used to contribute to the purchase of the condo in order to establish an ownership interest in the condo. 

How Can the Attorneys at Underwood Law Assist You?

The process to quiet title a piece of real property can prove to be a difficult task once in court. For a party to prevail on a motion to determine title, the party must establish that they have some ownership interest in the subject property. Proving an ownership interest in real property can be difficult when a party’s right to the property is more obscure, for example, when a party contributed to the acquisition of the property but their name is not on the title. It follows, then, that initiating a legal proceeding for a quiet title action can be a complex process. 

As each case is unique, property owners would be well-served to seek experienced counsel familiar with the ins and outs of a motion to determine the title and the law surrounding it. At Underwood Law, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help. If you are attempting to assert a quiet title action, are worried about your ability to assert a motion to determine the title, or if you just have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

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