California Appellate Court Affirms Statute of Limitations for Quiet Title Action Does Not Run While Plaintiff Possesses Property

The California Court of Appeals recently affirmed that the statute of limitations in a quiet title action does not begin to run against a party while they are still in possession of the property, even where that possession is shared with another person. See Reuter v. Macal, 2020 WL 6777962 (Cal. Ct. App. 2020).  The parties in this case were a man (Plaintiff) and a woman (Defendant) who had previously been involved in a romantic relationship. In May of 2005, Plaintiff delivered a deed conveying a joint interest in a condominium to Defendant with the expectation that they would get married shortly thereafter. The marriage never took place, and both parties agreed that the romantic relationship had ended by 2011, when Defendant became pregnant by a different man. Although at that time, and intermittently thereafter, the Plaintiff asked Defendant to give up her interest in the condo, she continued to live there with Plaintiff without incident until 2018, when Plaintiff filed an action to quiet title, claiming that the initial conveyance of the interest was conditional on marriage. Defendant’s main defense to the quiet title action was an argument that the statute of limitations began to run in 2011, when the relationship between the parties ended, and had expired by the time of filing in 2018. The trial court held that the statute of limitations had not begun to run until 2018, as in a quiet action, the statute of limitations “does not run against one in possession of land.”

On appeal, the Court affirmed. The California Supreme Court had previously held that in a quiet title action, “no statute of limitations runs against a plaintiff seeking to quiet title while he is in possession of the property,” as “in many instances one in possession would not know of dormant adverse claims . . . [and even if] the party in possession knows of a potential claimant, there is no reason to put him to the expense and inconvenience of litigation until such a claim is pressed against him.” Muktarian v. Barmby, 407 P.2d 659 (Cal. 1965). Here, the court found that “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 . . . through the filing of Plaintiff’s quiet title action . . . did Defendant assert such an adverse claim of title against him.” Thus, “as long as Plaintiff enjoyed possession of the condominium and defendant did not press her adverse claims against him in a manner that threatened or disturbed that possession, no statute of limitations began to run” and his action to quiet title was timely asserted.

For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at modonnell@riker.com, Michael Crowley at mcrowley@riker.com, or Andrew Raimondi at araimondi@riker.com.