Federal judge says quiet title suit belongs in St. Louis County court

By Scott Holland | Jun 7, 2019

ST. LOUIS – A federal judge has determined a quiet title action belongs in state court.

In an opinion issued May 28, Judge Henry Edward Autrey of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri completed a self-directed review of a lawsuit filed by Carol Whitley of Missouri on Aug. 7, 2018. Her petition, titled Quiet Title Suit in the Nature of a Common Law Claim, was, according to Autrey, styled as a state-law action.

However, defendants Paul D. Borja and others argued that since Whitley’s complaint invoked the Truth in Lending Act, the claim actually belongs in federal court. Autrey — noting the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction falls on the removing defendant — said Whitley’s petition referenced a rescission notice she mailed to defendants, a filing she said was “supported” by the Truth in Lending Act.

“The court finds this argument unpersuasive,” Autrey wrote. “(Whitley) does not allege a claim under TILA, nor does she offer fact statements relating to the elements of a TILA claim. Evidently, none of the defendants are the original mortgagee/creditor. The sole claim alleged by plaintiff is to quiet title. Federal question jurisdiction does not exist.”

The defendants alleged they were joined fraudulently with the exception of Flagstar Bank. Further, they said that since Flagstar and Whitley are from different states, and since the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, there is a diversity of jurisdiction that rightly places the matter in federal court.

Autrey said one of the defendants, Providence Capital One, is based in Missouri and is properly joined. Whitley said Providence bought the property in question from Flagstar after Flagstar bought it at a foreclosure sale, and Autrey wrote “It follows that Providence claims to hold title to the property in question.”

In order to bring a quiet title claim under Missouri law, Autrey wrote, a plaintiff must show ownership in the real estate, allege a “defendant claims some title, estate or interest to or in said premises” and that the defendant’s claim is adverse to the plaintiff.

“Because Providence has acquired title to the property that is adverse to (Whitley’s) claimed interest, there is an arguably reasonable basis for a quiet title action against Providence,” Autrey said. “Providence is a proper party to this quiet title action.”

Autrey further explained he didn’t need to examine if any of the other defendants with Missouri ties were properly joined to Whitley’s claim, “as the existence of one non-diverse defendant destroys diversity jurisdiction.”

Since the defendants failed to prove the federal court had jurisdiction over Whitley’s complaint, he remanded the matter back to St. Louis County Circuit Court.

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