In a quiet title action at the state level, a party with an interest in a property can file a lawsuit against any other parties that have a claim on the same property. When such a case is decided by a judge, the true owner of the property will be established and all other claims will be removed. In 1972, the Federal Quiet Title Act was passed, allowing the federal government to be named as a defendant in quiet title actions.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court added a new case to its docket for the 2022-23 term that will affect the way quiet title actions involving the federal government will be adjudicated in the future. The case Wilkins v. the United States was brought in 2018 by two Montana landowners who sought to limit public access to a roadway easement on their property that is held by the federal government. A lower court previously ruled that the landowners could not begin a quiet title action because they were outside of the statute of limitations. Because the landowners failed to bring their suit within 12 years of the time that they became aware, or should have become aware, of the issue, the court argued that they forfeited their right to use the Federal Quiet Title Act to sue the government.
The Supreme Court’s decision will determine whether the 12-year statute of limitations is jurisdictional – meaning that it cannot be waived – or it is merely a procedural rule that can be waived at the court’s discretion.
Because quiet title actions involving the federal government often go back hundreds of years and invoke decisions made in obscure past rulings, it can be extremely difficult to determine whether your lawsuit will be successful. In general, if you have a claim on a piece of property and the federal government has a competing claim, you can sue to gain undisputed rights to that land. The Federal Quiet Title Act can also apply to easements on your land that are held by the federal government. If you think you may have a case, the best thing to do is speak to a lawyer who specializes in real estate law and who has experience with quiet title actions.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Wilkins v. the United States will also impact your rights. If the Supreme Court rules that the 12-year statute of limitations is merely a point of procedure, it could open the federal government up to lawsuits stemming from decades-old land disputes.
In any real estate transaction, purchasing title insurance can protect the buyer from land ownership disputes. Title insurance can protect a buyer from losing their property or being made responsible for expenses stemming from situations where land ownership is unclear, where easements have not been disclosed, where a newly discovered will makes ownership unclear, and in many other situations. If you need title insurance for a real estate transaction, get in touch with World Wide Land Transfer. We are one of the most trusted title insurance companies for clients all over the country, and we can help you ensure you will be protected from any surprises during your next real estate transaction.
World Wide Land Transfer is a service-oriented PA title company with offices in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C. With a record of going above and beyond, we are trusted to close everything from complex commercial transactions to residential refinance and purchase transactions.