Quiet Title Actions in Florida: What Damages Can You Get? In a Quiet Title Lawsuit, What Do You Get When You Win?
Posted By Larry Tolchinsky on April 3, 2012
In Florida, a quiet title action is filed pursuant to specific Florida Legislation found in Chapter 65 of the Florida Statutes, “Quieting Title.” (You can read through the entire chapter online here.) In Chapter 65, Florida law defines three things that you can obtain in a successful quiet title action. If you can prove the grounds under 65.021(2), then you have the basis for filing a lawsuit and obtaining a judgment that removes the asserted cloud on your title and cancels out any improper conveyance of your property as well as cancelling conflicting evidence of title to your land.
That judgment will then be filed of record not only in the courthouse records in your jurisdiction, but it can also be filed in the real property records, so that the land records for your tract of land reflect that you have “quieted” the title to your property. That judgment, obviously, can be of great value to you and your heirs.
However, is that all you can get here?
Under a quiet title action, yes. The Quieting Title statutes do not provide for money damages to be paid to you. If you believe that you have been harmed, then you and your legal counsel will have to determine the scope of those damages and other bases of Florida law — contract, intentional tort, negligence — that may fit your situation and form the basis for a lawsuit to pursue justice for that harm.
What about your attorneys’ fees in a Quiet Title Action?
Here in Florida, the winning party can include their attorneys’ fees as part of their award only in three specific situations (see Kittel v. Kittel, 210 So.2d 1, 3 (Fla.1967):
- where authorized by contract;
- where authorized by a constitutional legislative enactment; and
- where awarded for services performed by an attorney in creating or bringing into the court a fund or other property.
What about getting your attorneys’ fees paid when you bring a quiet title action in the State of Florida? No. You cannot get the other side to pay for your legal fees. The Florida Supreme Court has nixed the ability to get your legal fees paid as a part of a quiet title action in Florida in the case of Price v. Tyler, 890 S0.2d 246 (Fla. 2004):
Second, the trial court entered a judgment quieting title. The pleadings demonstrate that both the Prices and the Tylers requested that the trial court equitably quiet title to the trapezoid parcel of land. An action to quiet title is an equitable proceeding. See McDaniel v. McElvy, 91 Fla. 770, 108 So. 820, 828 (1926) (“Jurisdiction over proceedings to quiet title … is inherent in courts of equity.”). An equitable action requires equitable relief. Section 65.061 of the Florida Statutes governs quiet title actions. See § 65.061, Fla. Stat. (2001). Pursuant to section 65.061 of the Florida Statutes, the court had jurisdiction to “enter judgment quieting the title and awarding possession to the party entitled thereto.” § 65.061(1), Fla. Stat. (2001). Section 65.061 does not authorize the award of damages and attorneys’ fees, and therefore the Prices have no statutory entitlement to such fees under this chapter.
Finally, in its final judgment quieting title, the trial court cited only section 57.041 of the Florida Statutes in awarding the Prices attorneys’ fees in addition to the costs expended. This was in error. Section 57.041 provides:
57.041 Costs; recovery from losing party. —
(1) The party recovering judgment shall recover all his or her legal costs and charges which shall be included in the judgment; but this section does not apply to executors or administrators in actions when they are not liable for costs.
(2) Costs may be collected by execution on the judgment or order assessing costs.
253*253 § 57.041, Fla. Stat. (2001). In this action, the trial court should not have included attorneys’ fees as “costs” because section 57.041 does not include attorneys’ fees in the definition of litigation costs. See Wiggins, 446 So.2d at 1079 (“[T]he term `costs’ is not generally understood as including attorney’s fees.”). Based on the foregoing, we hold that under the facts of this case, there is no contract, statute or other basis authorizing the Prices to recover attorneys’ fees.
We agree with the Fourth District’s decision below that “[n]either type of action [declaratory relief actions nor actions to quiet title] permits the recovery of attorney’s fees absent a contractual provision or a statute authorizing the same.” Tyler, 821 So.2d at 1126. To the extent the Fifth District’s opinion in Saporito can be interpreted to permit an award of attorneys’ fees as general compensatory damages or costs in either type of action, we disapprove Saporito.
If our predictions are correct, the State of Florida will soon see a record number of quiet title actions being filed as property owners try and clear title to their property after all the Foreclosure Fraud mess. For some, they may be able to file claims that also exist under Florida law under contract or tort law which will provide them with money damages from a wrongdoer. Those legal bases may include the ability of the plaintiff to get their legal fees reimbursed as a part of their award.
However, unless and until the Florida Legislature changes Chapter 65 to allow for an award of attorneys’ fees, it does not appear that Floridians will be able to get their legal fees paid (reimbursed) as part of their recovery in a quiet title action. Perhaps this will change.
The longstanding quieting title laws have been on the books for many years, and it can be argued that those who wrote these laws to provide for clearing title could not have foreseen the widespread disrespect of real estate laws that banks and mortgage servicers have undertaken over the past few years.
Perhaps it’s time for the Florida lawmakers to reconsider this situation – passing an amendment to Chapter 65 that will allow the Foreclosure Fraud wrongdoers to pay for the legal fees necessary to clean things up in Florida’s real estate records.
If you have questions or comments, please feel free to Chat with Larry in the comments below, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 458-8655.