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Background.  This  is an equitable action to remove a cloud from the title to property. A  suit to remove cloud from title or suit to quiet title contrasts with an  action for trespass to try title. Vernon v. Perrien, 390 S.W.3d 47, 61 (Tex. App. - El Paso 2012, pet denied.)(citing Katz v. Rodriguez,  563 S.W.2d 627, 629 (Tex. Civ. App.--Corpus Christi 1977, writ ref'd  n.r.e.).  A trespass-to-try-title action is statutory and accords a legal  remedy, while a suit to remove cloud or to quiet title is an equitable remedy. Id. The quiet title suit relies on the invalidity of the defendant's claim to the property. Perrien at 61(citing Essex Crane Rental Corporation v. Carter, 371 S.W.3d 366, 388 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2012, pet. denied); Longoria v. Lasater,  292 S.W.3d 156, 165 n.7 (Tex. App.--San Antonio 2009, pet. denied).  This cause of action exists "to enable the holder of the feeblest equity  to remove from his way to legal title any unlawful hindrance having the  appearance of better right." Perrien at 61 (citing Essex at 388; Hahn v. Love,  321 S.W.3d 517, 531 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2009, pet denied). A  cloud on title exists when an outstanding claim or encumbrance is  shown, which on its face, if valid, would affect or impair the title of  the owner of the property. Perrien at 61.  The effect of a suit to quiet title is to declare invalid or ineffective the defendant's claim to title. Id.  The plaintiff has the burden of supplying the proof necessary to establish his superior equity and right to relief. Essex Crane at  388. The plaintiff must prove, as a matter of law, that he has a right  of ownership and that the adverse claim is a cloud on the title that  equity will remove. Id.

Elements.  The  elements of the cause of action to quiet title are: 1) an interest in a  specific property, 2) title to the property is affected by a claim by the defendant, and 3) the claim, although facially valid, is invalid or unenforceable. Perrien at 61.

Statute of Limitations.  There may be no limitations period if this equitable action is brought to undue a void deed or one that has expired by its own terms.  Ford v. Exxon Mobil Chem. Co., 235 S.W.3d 615, 618 (Tex. 2007).  But in the case of a voidable deed, as opposed to a deed that is void, then the underlying tort claim would dictate the limitations period. Deeds obtained by fraud are voidable rather than void, and remain effective until set aside. Id.   And fraud claims must be brought within four years of when the fraud should have been discovered by reasonable diligence.  Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem.Code § 16.004(a)(4); Little v. Smith, 943 S.W.2d 414, 420–21 (Tex.1997).  While not all public records establish an irrebuttable presumption of notice, the recorded instruments in a grantee's chain of title generally do.  Ford at 617; HECI Exploration Co. v. Neel, 982 S.W.2d 881, 886–87 (Tex.1998).  Once limitations has expired for setting aside a deed obtained through fraud, that bar cannot be evaded by simply asserting the claim in equity.  Id. 

Suit to Quiet Title

© 2014 Mark Courtois

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