Quiet Title

An action to quiet title is a lawsuit brought in a court having jurisdiction over land disputes, in order to establish a party’s title to real property against anyone and everyone, and thus "quiet" any challenges or claims to the title. It comprises a complaint that the ownership (title) of a parcel of land or other real property is defective in some fashion, typically where title to the property is ambiguous - for example, where it has been conveyed by a quitclaim deed through which the previous owner disclaims all interest, but does not promise that good title is conveyed. Such an action may also be brought to dispel a restraint on alienation or another party’s claim of a nonpossessory interest in land, such as an easement by prescription.

Other typical grounds for complaint include:

  • adverse possession where the new possessor sues to obtain title in his or her own name;
  • fraudulent conveyance of a property, perhaps by a forged deed or under coercion;
  • Torrens title registration, an action which terminates all unrecorded claims;
  • treaty disputes regarding the boundaries between nations;
  • tax taking issues, where a municipality claims title in lieu of back taxes owed (or a subsequent purchaser of land at a tax sale files action to gain insurable title);
  • boundary disputes between states, municipalities, or private parties;
  • surveying errors.
Unlike acquisition through a deed of sale, a quiet title action will give the party seeking such relief no cause of action against previous owners of the property, unless the plaintiff in the quiet title action acquired its interest through a warranty deed and had to bring the action to settle defects that existed when the warranty deed was delivered.

One has to be careful about talking about quiet title actions in the context of registration systems. Quiet title actions really have no applicability where a registration system is in place, having been wholly replaced by the registration statutes. Quiet title actions derive in common law jurisdictions from a common law equitable cause of action by the same name. In many jurisdictions they have been supplemented or replaced by a statutory cause of action, which may or may not have the same legal elements of the common law action. Where dealing with statutory quiet title it is more appropriate to talk about actions in the nature of quiet title.

Quiet title actions do not "clear title" generally. They are actions for the purpose of clearing a particular known title defect or perceived defect. Contrast title registration which settles all title issues, both known and unknown. Quiet title actions are always subject to attack and are particularly vulnerable to jurisdictional challenges, both subject matter and personal, even years after final court decree in the action.