Right to Jury Trial in Quiet Title Cases

There are few things in the law that people perceive as inviolate as the right to a jury trial.  However, the right to a jury trial is only a matter of right in a civil action at law, but not in equity.  (C & K Engineering Contractors v. Amber Steel Co., Inc. (1978) 23 Cal.3d 1, 8.)  This is based on whether the gist of the action is legal or equitable.  In other words, whether a jury trial must be granted is based on a detailed analysis of the nature of the rights involved in the particular case.  Although pleadings may provide some indication whether the action is of a legal or equitable nature, they are not conclusive.  (C & K Engineering Contractors v. Amber Steel Co., Inc., supra, 23 Cal.3d at 9.)

Although quiet title generally seeks declaratory relief, due to the broad relief available under the quiet title statute, quiet title claims can be both equitable and legal in nature.  Therefore, whether a party is entitled to a jury trial depends on a detailed analysis of the nature of the quiet title cause of action.

In a simple action to quiet title when the possession of the property is not at issue, it is an equitable action.  (Thomson v. Thomson (1936) 7 Cal.2d 671, 678.)  For example, this situation usually occurs where the plaintiff is in possession of the property, but wants to remove cloud from his title based on adverse claims for money recorded against his property.

However, where a suit should have been, and in substance is, an action for the recovery of possession of land, the action is legal in nature and can be tried before a jury.  (Thomson v. Thomson, supra 7 Cal.2d at 678.)  For example, this situation occurs where the plaintiff is out of possession of the property and seeks to recover from a defendant who is encroaching on plaintiff’s property or seeking to adversely possess plaintiffs’ property.

In situations where plaintiff is in possession of the property, and defendant seeks to eject plaintiff from property and recover possession, the action involves both equitable and legal issues.  (Thomson v. Thomson, supra 7 Cal.2d at 678.)  Specifically, plaintiff’s claims are equitable, like in the first scenario) and defendant’s claims are legal, like in the second scenario.

Schorr Law has extensive experience successfully quieting title in varying types of quiet title cases.  To inquire about a free consultation, contact us at (310) 954-1877, info@schorr-law.com or by using the Contact Form.

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