In the previous segment on resolving title disputes with Quiet Title Actions, I discussed what Quiet Title Actions are used for, in what types of title disputes they can be effective and the two types of Quiet Title Action lawsuits. In this installment I will explain where the case is tried and the general guidelines that need to be followed when going to court with a Quiet Title Action. We will also take a look at a typical timeline for Quiet Title Action cases.
Georgia’s Equity Code provides that a Quiet Title Action may only be filed in the county where the land in question is located. Because Georgia has 159 counties, it is critical to be specific about where the land is located and in what county the claim is filed. In Georgia, the highest plenary court in any county is the Superior Court, so these lawsuits must be filed in the Superior Court of the county where the land is located. When filing a petition it is required that you state specifically what land you are suing to remove the clouds from and the suit must be signed and verified by you, the petitioner (as a petition in equity, the petitioner must swear to the facts). If you are filing under the Quiet Title Act of 1966, you must petition to remove all disputes, or clouds to title. Also, you must file a recent plat of the land, a copy of a recent survey of the land and a copy of the immediate deed or interest of the petitioner (this is the document that indicates that the petitioner is the true owner of the land). Once the petition is filed, a notice to “the whole world” must be filed at the land records office stating that there is a lawsuit pending regarding the land and that anyone that takes the land by deed or transfer, takes it subject to the lawsuit under lis pendens.
When the lawsuit is filed, the Superior Court judge of the county will assign the case to a lawyer, called a Special Master. From this point on the Superior Court judge typically has limited involvement. The Special Master is a lawyer that resides in the judicial circuit or county where the Superior Court is located and who has experience in real estate law. The Special Master is charged with examining the title. He does this by holding a hearing, and sometimes a trial, and by reviewing the petition to see that everything has been filed appropriately. He will also ensure that everyone that was required to be served the petition was served. It is important to note that all neighboring landowners will be served, so that they have an opportunity to bring up any outstanding disputes, such as boundary issues. Everyone served has 30 days to respond to the claim.
Then, just like any other trial, the case goes into an evidentiary phase during which there may be requests for documentation, depositions, physical inspections of the land, subpoenas and any other action that is allowed in Superior Court. As the petitioner, you may do anything you want to acquire evidence to prove your case. You must have proof of ownership, though, as it is not enough to just disprove someone else’s claim to the land. Failure to show proof of ownership is grounds for dismissal of the lawsuit. Once the evidence is gathered, the Special Master will review everything and send a written report to the Superior Court judge. The Superior Court judge will then make a determination of the title. Most times the judge will make this ruling based on the Special Master’s report, but in rare cases the judge might ignore the Special Master’s report and require that a trial be held or that evidence be reviewed. Usually though, the Superior Court judge accepts the Special Master’s report, processes an order which decrees the title to the land (eliminating clouds to title) and files the order with the court clerk.
Once the judge files the order with the clerk, the title is considered “good and marketable” in Georgia, although technically at this point there is a 30-day waiting period to allow for all final appeals to run out. This appeal period allows for anyone in the world, who did not have notice of the case, to come forward and file an appeal. To be recognized however, anyone stepping forward during this appeal period has to prove that they did not originally receive notice of the Quiet Title Action lawsuit. When the 30-day period ends the judgment is considered final, and once this occurs it is very difficult to reopen the claim. All title companies in Georgia will issue a “good and marketable” title at this point when the appeal period is over and the judgment becomes final and non-appealable.
Quiet Title Action suits eliminate all issues with regard to land so that “good and marketable” titles can be issued that allow for property to be transferred properly, whether the real estate is residential, farmland, vacant land or commercial. Our Firm represents individuals who need help with real estate issues, including the resolution of title disputes. We welcome the opportunity to be of service to you. Please feel free to call our Firm at (404) 467-8611 or toll free at to discuss your options. You can also send us a message through our confidential Web Site form. The Libby Law Firm is conveniently located in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, Georgia near the intersection of Piedmont and Roswell Roads.