A quiet title action seeks a judicial determination regarding the validity of adverse claims to title over a disputed real property. A.R.S. §12-1101 et seq. A quiet title action is generally brought when a person, entity or governmental body claims an interest in real property which is adverse to the interest of another. Typically, rather than seek purely monetary damages, a plaintiff in a quiet title action asks the court to enter a ruling which forever bars the defendant from having or claiming any right, title or interest in the disputed property which is adverse to the rights, title or interest of the plaintiff. Id. The concept behind a quiet title action is for a plaintiff to clear title – to remove a cloud on the title to his property.
The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense. If a claim is not brought within the required period of time after the claim arises, the statute of limitations defense can be implemented to forever bar that claim. However, the general rule pertaining to quiet title actions is that the statute of limitations does not run against a plaintiff who has undisturbed possession of the disputed property. Cook v. Town of Pinetop-Lakeside, 232 Ariz. 173, 303 P.3d 67 (2013). Therefore, in general, the statute of limitations can never be used to bar a quiet title action.
However, there may be an exception to the general rule where the plaintiff does not have undisturbed possession of the disputed property. In Rogers v. Board of Regents of University of Arizona, 233 Ariz. 262, 311 P.3d 1075 (2013), the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld a ruling in which the trial court found that a quiet title action was barred by the applicable statute of limitations.
In Rogers, the plaintiff brought a quiet title action which sought affirmation from the trial court that he had an easement across the University’s property. The trial court ruled that the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations and thus dismissed the claim. The trial court went on to rule that the plaintiff was forever barred from asserting any claim, right, title or interest in the disputed property which was adverse to that of the University.
The Rogers court distinguished its dismissal from the general rule because the plaintiff did not have undisturbed possession of the disputed property. The Rogers plaintiff was not in actual possession of the property at all, but rather used the disputed strip of land to access his property. Ultimately, the University installed a gate and thereby blocked the plaintiff’s use of the disputed property. The court’s ruling hinged on the fact that it was the University, not the plaintiff, who had actual possession of the disputed property. As such, the court found that the moment the University blocked the plaintiff’s use of the claimed easement (and plaintiff demanded the gate be removed), the statute of limitations began to accrue and the plaintiff had a limited period of time (one year) to bring his claim or be forever barred.
As a result of the Rogers ruling, plaintiffs and their legal counsel will need to be more vigilant when deciding how quickly to file quiet title actions. If you are involved in a title dispute, you should consult with legal counsel as soon as practical to ensure your claim is preserved and not barred by the applicable statute of limitations.