Court Dismisses Quiet Title Action with Completely Wrong Legal Description

February 18, 2015 | Kristine A. Tidgren

When I was in journalism school, my professors had a policy that if you spelled a name wrong in a story, you flunked the assignment. The Iowa Court of Appeals recently ruled that if you describe the wrong property in your quiet title petition, you get your case dismissed.

The plaintiff is a company that frequently purchases properties at tax sale auctions.  In this case, the company purchased the defendant’s tax sale certificate from another company, which had served a notice of redemption upon the defendants. The 90-day redemption period had closed. Shortly after purchasing the certificate, the plaintiff filed its petition to quiet title in the defendants’ property. The second paragraph of the pleadings contained an incorrect legal description of the property. The description, in fact, was for a totally different parcel of land. The plaintiff did provide three attachments to the petition: the tax deed, the tax sale certificate, and the previously served notice of right to redemption. All three attachments provided the correct legal description.

The defendants moved to dismiss the action on the grounds that the legal description was wrong. The district court allowed the plaintiff to amend, and the plaintiff prevailed in its action.

The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that “a quiet title action that references the wrong parcel of land, as opposed to a minor correction or typographical error, substantially changes the issues in such a proceeding.” The court found that because the description was completely wrong, the plaintiffs had also not met the notice requirement for a quiet title action found in Iowa Code §649.3. The district court erred in allowing the plaintiff to amend. Importantly, the court pointed out that it might have reached a different decision had the legal description contained a minor error. In fact, in the same case, the court determined that although the affidavit of service was incorrectly notarized as February 8, 2011, rather than February 8, 2012, the affidavit met all of the statutory requirements. The court found that the scrivener’s error was not a defect that invalidated the tax deed.

I think my professors and the court both got it right. There are “acceptable” errors that—while not ideal—will occur from time-to-time because of dreaded "human error." There are other errors, however, that reflect a complete and total lack of care. Such errors have no place in court filings.  Unfortunately, many hours of many resources were wasted in this case to reach that conclusion.

Adair Holdings, L.L.C. v. Escher, No. No. 14-0477, 2015 Iowa App. LEXIS 106 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 11, 2015).