law-quiet-title-suit title dispute trespass to try title action | declaratory judgment action | adverse possession

An equitable suit to quiet title is not subject to limitations if a deed is void. Ford v. Exxon Mobil Chem. Co.,
235 S.W.3d 615, 618 (Tex.2007). If a deed is voidable, however, then the four-year statute of limitations
controls. See id. (noting that when a deed is merely voidable, equity will not intervene because claimant
has an adequate remedy at law); see also Slaughter v. Qualls, 139 Tex. 340, 345, 162 S.W.2d 671, 674
(1942) (stating that four-year statute of limitations applies to deeds that are voidable).

SUIT TO QUIET TITLE

A suit to quiet title is equitable in nature, and the principal issue in such suits is “‘the existence of a cloud
on the title that equity will remove.’”  Florey v. Estate of McConnell, 212 S.W.3d 439, 448 (Tex. App.—
Austin 2006, pet. denied) (quoting Bell v. Ott, 606 S.W.2d 942, 952 (Tex. Civ. App.—Waco 1980, writ ref’d
n.r.e.)).  A “cloud” on legal title includes any deed, contract, judgment lien or other instrument, not void on
its face, that purports to convey an interest in or makes any charge upon the land of the true owner, the
invalidity of which would require proof.  Wright v. Matthews, 26 S.W.3d 575, 578 (Tex. App.—Beaumont
2000, pet. denied).  A suit to quiet title “‘enable[s] the holder of the feeblest equity to remove from his way
to legal title any unlawful hindrance having the appearance of better right.’”  Florey, 212 S.W.3d at 448
(quoting Thomson v. Locke, 1 S.W.112, 115 (Tex. 1886)).

Courts have used the term “suit to quiet title” to refer to legal disputes regarding
(1) title to and possession of real property; and (2) the validity of other “clouds” on an undisputed owner’s
title to real property.  Compare Alkas v. United Sav. Ass’n of Tex., Inc., 672 S.W.2d 852, 855–56 (Tex. App.
—Corpus Christi 1984, writ ref’d n.r.e.) (suit to adjudicate ownership of property to determine whether
creditors of original owner retained interest in property purportedly conveyed to new owner was action “to
quiet title”), with Sw. Guar. Trust Co. v. Hardy Rd. 13.4 Joint Venture, 981 S.W.2d 951, 956–57 (Tex. App.
—Houston [1st Dist.] 1998, pet. denied) (undisputed property owner’s action to invalidate lien and deed of
trust securing lien constituted suit “to quiet title”); see also Florey, 212 S.W.3d at 449 (distinguishing
between “suits to quiet title that are equivalent to trespass-to-try-title actions” and suits to quiet title
involving interests that only “indirectly impact” title to and possession of real property).[1]  

The first type of claim, which involves title to and possession of real property, is essentially “the equivalent
to [a] trespass-to-try-title action[].”  See Florey, 212 S.W.3d at 449; see also Sani v. Powell, 153 S.W.3d
736, 746 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2005, pet. denied) (quiet title claim involving allegedly invalid tax sale of
property characterized as trespass to try title action).  “A trespass to try title action is the method of
determining title to lands, tenements, or other real property.”  Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 22.001 (Vernon
2000).  A trespass to try title action “is typically used to clear problems in chains of title or to recover
possession of land unlawfully withheld from a rightful owner.”  See Martin v. Amerman, 133 S.W.3d 262,
265 (Tex. 2004), superseded by statute, Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.004 (Vernon 2008)
(reversing Martin’s holding that relief under the Declaratory Judgment Act was unavailable for boundary
dispute).  It is the exclusive remedy by which to resolve competing claims to property.  Jordan v.
Bustamante, 158 S.W.3d 29, 34 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, pet. denied).  Courts require
claimants bringing this type of “suit to quiet title” to base their claims on the strength of their own title.  See
Kennedy Con., Inc. v. Forman, 316 S.W.3d 129, 135 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2010, no pet.);
Alkas, 672 S.W.2d at 857.  To recover, a claimant must establish a prima facie right of title by proving one
of the following: (1) a regular chain of conveyances from the sovereign; (2) a superior title out of a
common source; (3) title by limitations; or (4) prior possession, which has not been abandoned.  Kennedy
Con., Inc., 316 S.W.3d at 135.  

The second type of claim, which involves other “clouds” on an undisputed owner’s title to real property,
challenges an adverse interest that impacts title and possession only indirectly.  See Florey, 212 S.W.3d
at 449; see also Max Duncan Family Inv., Ltd. v. NTFN Inc., 267 S.W.3d 447, 453–54 (Tex. App.—Dallas
2008, pet. denied) (undisputed property owner’s suit to invalidate promissory note and lien securing note
“involve[d] more than just title and possession of real property”); Cadle Co. v. Ortiz, 227 S.W.3d 831, 837–
38 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2007, pet. denied) (undisputed property owner’s post-foreclosure suit to
invalidate mechanic’s lien distinguished from trespass to try title action); Sw. Guar. Trust Co., 981 S.W.2d
at 957 (undisputed property owner’s action to declare lien invalid was “really one to quiet title”).  A claim is
sufficiently adverse if its assertion would cast a cloud on the owner’s enjoyment of the property.  See Katz
v. Rodriguez, 563 S.W.2d 627, 629 (Tex. Civ. App.—Corpus Christi 1977, writ ref’d n.r.e.).  To remove
such a cloud, a plaintiff must “allege right, title, or ownership in herself with sufficient certainty to enable
the court to see she has a right of ownership that will warrant judicial interference.”  Wright, 26 S.W.3d at
578.  


HOUSTON CASES

Financial Freedom Senior Funding Corp. v. Horrocks (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Jul. 21, 2009)
(Anderson) (
real estate litigation, probate law, suit to quiet title, declaratory judgment, demand note, life
estate, reverse mortgages, statute of limitations for foreclosure of lien in real property, deed of trust)
AFFIRMED: Opinion by
Justice Anderson     
Before Chief Justice Hedges, Justices Anderson and Seymore   
14-08-00109-CV Financial Freedom Senior Funding Corp v. Michael L. Horrocks, Administrator of Estate
of Mary Edythe Mullane, Deceased   
Appeal from Probate Court No 4 of Harris County
Trial Court Judge: WM CAMERON MCCULLOCH  

Jones v. Smith (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Jul. 14, 2009)(real estate law: action to quiet title, not bona
fide purchaser, quantum meruit cross-claim, findings of fact and conclusions of law)
REVERSED AND REMANDED: Opinion by
Justice Guzman  
Before Justices Brock Yates, Guzman and Sullivan)
14-08-00639-CV Guy Jones v. Jeanne M. Smith and Peter A. Morgenroth  
Appeal from 405TH District Court of Galveston County
Trial Court Judge: WAYNE J. MALLIA   




CAUSES OF ACTION ELEMENTS | HOUSTON CASE LAW | TEXAS COURT OF APPEALS OPINIONS  

HOUSTON OPINIONS HOME PAGE