Over the years I have handled my fair share of quiet title cases. They are unique in several respects. The recent case of Nickell v. Matlock highlights one unique aspect: default judgments are not allowed. Pursuant to statutes specific to quiet title actions, the court must, in all cases, require evidence of plaintiff’s title and must hear evidence that is offered as to the claims of any other defendants.
What about the circumstance when a defendant’s pleading has been struck and his default entered as a sanction? Is that defendant allowed to present evidence of title at the evidentiary hearing?
The court in Nickell answered the question in the affirmative. Relying heavily on the majority opinion in Harbour Vista, LLC v. HSBC Mortgage Services, Inc. (2011) 201 Cal.App.4th 1496, the court held that a defaulting defendant in a quiet title action had the right to participate in a noticed evidentiary hearing to determine the merits of the action, even when the default is due to a court imposed terminating sanction for abuse of the discovery process.
The court noted that although a trial court may impose sanctions on a party for misusing discovery, including an order rendering a judgment by default, such general statutes and rules apply to quiet title actions only when they are not inconsistent with the specific quiet title statutes. Since the quiet title provisions flatly prohibit judgment by default and require the court to hear such evidence as may be offered respecting the claims of any of the defendants, all defendants must be given an opportunity at the prove-up hearing to present evidence of their claims.
The court held, regardless of the reason for the entry of default, quiet title actions are exempt from a judgment by default. The reason is that a judgment in a quiet title action is binding and conclusive on all persons, known and unknown, who were parties to the action and all persons who were not parties to the action.
Applying the rule of statutory construction that when two statutes are applicable but their application leads to different results, the specific statute — in this case the quiet title statute — takes precedence over the more general one — the statute which allows the court to render judgment by default against a party whose pleading has been struck and their default entered.
I consult with clients and accept cases involving title, boundary, and easement disputes, including the prosecution and defense of quiet title and related actions. For other types of cases I accept, please scroll my “Home” and “My Practice” pages. If you are seeking a legal consultation or representation, please give me a call at 818.971.9409. – Michael Daymude