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Actions for Quiet Title in New Jersey – NJSA 2A:62-1 et seq and R. 4:62-1 et seq

What is a Quiet Title Action?

A quiet title claim is made when there is a dispute over the ownership of a piece of real estate. A party can ask the Court to enter a declaratory judgment that they have legal title to the piece of real estate, and if successful then a certified copy of this judgment can be recorded at the County just like a deed would be recorded. Cases like this arise most commonly to adjudicate a dispute over a property line or easement, but they can arise in many other ways such as when there is a dispute over an estate or even to correct a deed that was recorded wrongly or inaccurately.

What must the plaintiff prove in such an action?

N.J.S.A. 2A:62-1 states that:

Any person in the peaceable possession of lands in this state and claiming ownership thereof, may, when his title thereto, or any part thereof, is denied or disputed, or any other person claims or is claimed to own the same, or any part thereof or interest therein, or to hold a lien encumbrance thereon, and when no such action is pending to enforce or test the validity of such title, claim or encumbrance, maintain such an action in the superior court to settle the title to such lands and to clear up all doubts and disputed concerning the same.

There is extensive case-law repeating the necessity that a plaintiff be in “peaceable possession” of the land before being able to make such a claim. It is a jurisdictional prerequisite, meaning the court doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear a quiet title claim unless the plaintiff is in fact in peaceable possession of the disputed land.

What are the requirements of the Complaint itself?

Besides the necessity of making a prima-facie case for satisfaction of the statute within the complaint, NJ Court Rule 4:62-1 states:

The complaint in an action in the Superior Court authorized by statute to quiet and determine title and claims to property, real or personal, or any right or interest therein, shall state the manner in which plaintiff either acquired title or the right to possession and shall describe the property with such certainty that the defendant will be distinctly apprised of its location or character, and a judgment affecting the same may be entered according to that description.

Failure to cite this information in the Complaint will subject it to dismissal. A defendant’s Answer to a quiet title complaint must similarly be made with specificity per R 4:62-2.

Where to file?

A quiet title case is generally filed in the Chancery division of Superior Court, which hears cases involving “equitable” disputes. Chancery hears cases where the primary relief being sought is not money damages, because money damages will not adequately compensate a party. For example, real estate is generally considered unique and where a party refuses to honor its obligations in a real estate contract, the non-defaulting party’s damages cannot easily be compensated for with money alone. So a court of equity can force a defaulting party to hand over the real property it was supposed to in a contract rather than merely being awarded money damages. Although the Special Civil division technically can hear quiet title actions in an “ejectment” proceeding per the ejectment statute, they are no commonly brought this way in practice. This is because ejectment actions are expedited “summary” actions which do not generally allow for the exchange of discovery. And cases involving a dispute over ownership of a piece of land often (though not always) involve complex fact patterns that require discovery.

What evidence should be provided in support of such an action?

You will almost always need to provide a title search and a survey as part of the supporting documents in the case. In some cases a certification from a title searcher, and a clear flow-chart of the historical title ownership of the property (if it is complex and applicable), referencing the book and page of each prior transfer as well as the dates and names of grantors/grantees, is a good idea as well. These cases can be complex and judges have limited time to review documents and motions, so the more clearly you describe your argument the more likely it is to be successful.

What should be included in the proposed Order for the judge to sign if successful?

The proposed Order should clearly state that the adversary does not have an interest in the property and that the prevailing party has an estate in fee simple. It is very, very important to properly describe the property in the Order since it will be what title companies will rely on in the future if you ever sell the property. Besides the street address and block and lot, it should¬†include a metes and bounds description of the property from a surveyor or prior deed and, if it makes sense under the circumstances, attach the survey itself as an exhibit to the Order as well. Ultimately you will need to request a certified copy of the order for recording at the County recorder’s office and once any appeal periods have run, you should record the order to protect your interest in the property just like a deed would.

2023-08-08T02:04:08+00:00
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