Claims for quieting title to real property can be governed by different statutes of limitations periods. But a common issue in quiet title cases is when the statute of limitations period starts running.
This issue has been covered in other Money and Dirt posts:
- A Notice of Default Does Not “Disturb Possession” — addressing whether notices of default under a forged, and therefore void, deed of trust disturbed the owners’ possession sufficiently to start the statute of limitations running on their claim to quiet title. (The court’s answer: No.)
- A Notice of Trustee’s Sale Does Not Necessarily “Disturb Possession” — covering a case holding that a lender’s notice of trustee’s sale likewise did not “disturb possession” enough to start the clock ticking on a quiet title claim.
A case recently published by California’s Second Appellate District — Reuter v. Macal — addresses similar issues in the context of a claim for quiet title after a failed deed given as a gift in contemplation of marriage under Civil Code section 1590.
Facts: Plaintiff gives deed in contemplation of marriage; marriage called off
The plaintiff became involved in a romantic relationship with defendant — a woman 19 years younger than him. Soon, she and her daughter moved into his condominium. They discussed marriage. Plaintiff told defendant he wanted to marry her. She agreed, but only on the condition that her name be placed on title to his condominium.
The next year, Plaintiff executed a grant deed conveying to defendant a joint interest in his condominium.
Six years later, in 2011, defendant disclosed to plaintiff that she was pregnant by another man and intended to keep the child. Plaintiff told defendant she need to move out of the condominium. Defendant agreed to move out, but asked for some time. They continued living together afterward for years, but with separate bedrooms, and plaintiff considered their relationship to be over.
Finally in 2018, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant to quiet title to his condominium against the prior grant deed. The lawsuit alleged that plaintiff deeded the interest to defendant in contemplation of their marriage, which never came to pass, and therefore the deed should be cancelled.
Defendant asserted that plaintiff’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations, which she contended began to run in 2011, when it became clear the marriage was off.
Trial court: statute of limitations defense rejected; defendant ordered to reconvey title
The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiff.
The court rejected defendant’s statute of limitations defense, holding the statue of limitations “does not run against one in possession of land,” citing to prior decisions such as Salazar v. Thomas (covered in one of the prior Money and Dirt posts mentioned above) and Muktarian v. Barmby. Because plaintiff “never relinquished possession of the premises,” the statute of limitations did not begin to run.
As such, the court ordered defendant to reconvey title to the property to plaintiff.
Court of Appeal: affirmed
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
Following the rationale of the trial court and the prior case law on which the trial court relied, the Court of Appeal held:
Here, at all times after he executed the May 2005 deed, plaintiff was in continuous possession of the condominium. And, although he voluntarily shared that possession with defendant and was presumably aware of her potential adverse claim to title, at no time from the execution of the deed in 2005 through the filing of plaintiff’s quiet title action in 2018 did defendant assert such an adverse claim of title against him. Thus, … there was no reason for plaintiff to incur the expense or inconvenience of litigation against defendant. Accordingly, regardless of which statute of limitations governed plaintiff’s quiet title claim, it could not have begun to run against him while he was in undisturbed possession of his condominium.
Under the line of authorities discussed above, the statute of limitations on a claim for quiet title will not begin to run as long as the plaintiff remains in undisturbed possession of the property.