In 2016, the General Assembly passed amendments to the quiet title statute, which governs how title to disputed property is determined. The Court of Appeals held in Estate of Zimmerman v. Blatter, 458 Md. 698, 183 A.3d 223 (2018), that the amendments to the quiet title statute applied to a case that was before the Court of Special Appeals when those amendments became effective. As a result, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the Circuit Court for Frederick County to implement the new provisions.
At issue was a six-acre parcel (the “Disputed Property”) that is located between the property of the Estate of Charles Howard Zimmerman (the “Estate”) and the Laughlin Farm. The record owner of the Disputed Property died more than 100 years ago and had no personal representative. On June 4, 2014, the Estate filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Frederick County against the owner of the Laughlin Farm to quiet title (establish ownership) to the Disputed Property based on the Estate’s claim of adverse possession. The action did not name an owner of the Disputed Property as a party. The circuit court ruled that as between the parties to the case, the Estate was the owner of the Disputed Property, but the circuit court specifically did not decide that the Estate was the owner of the Disputed Property as against the world.
On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals decided on June 26, 2017, to vacate the judgment of the circuit court with directions to dismiss the case for failure to name a necessary party. Blatter v. Estate of Zimmerman, No. 2146, Sept. Term, 2015, 2017 WL 2730237 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. June 26, 2017), cert. granted, 456 Md. 251, 173 A.3d 153 (2017), and rev'd, 458 Md. 698, 183 A.3d 223 (2018). Prior thereto, on October 1, 2016, Chapter 396 (House Bill 920) of the Laws of Maryland of 2016 became effective and added Subtitle 6 of Article 14 of the Real Property Article. These new provisions, together with Maryland Rules 12-801 to 12-811, established uniform rules for prosecuting quiet title actions and set forth procedures for dealing with unknown defendants and other circumstances.
The Court of Appeals issued a writ of certiorari and held that the new law applied retroactively to all cases pending when the new law became effective, including this case. The Court found that the new law was remedial in nature and did not affect vested or substantive rights, and so it was appropriate to apply the new law retroactively. Therefore, the Court reversed the opinion of the Court of Special Appeals and held that the case should be remanded to the circuit court and tried under the new law and applicable rules.
Judge Watts wrote the opinion for the Court of Appeals. Judge Hotten dissented, stating that the presumption is that laws are only applied prospectively. Because the new quiet title statute did not express legislative intent to apply the law retroactively, it should only apply prospectively. Judge Hotten would have affirmed the decision of the Court of Special Appeals.
For questions, please contact Ed Levin (410) 576-1900.