Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. Wins Summary Judgment for Defendant in a Heated Title Dispute

By Colin E. Kaufman

Property dispute cartoon

Plaintiffs brought an action against the Defendant, essentially seeking to determine the ownership of a property located in Brooklyn. In this case, both parties were deeded title to the subject property. Because the Defendant recorded its interest first, Plaintiffs asserted the following causes of action against the Defendant as a basis to quiet title in Plaintiffs: (1) forgery; (2) adverse possession; (3) equitable estoppel; (4) unclean hands; and (5) unjust enrichment. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. was able to secure judgment in favor of the Defendant, dismissing each and every one of these claims.

As to Plaintiffs’ first cause of action, they claimed that the signatures of the grantors on the Defendant’s deed were forged. However, as Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. argued, the grantors’ signatures were notarized, and a notarized instrument raises a presumption of due execution which can only be rebutted with clear and convincing proof. In this case, Plaintiffs presented no evidence at all, let alone clear and convincing proof, to support their claim that the Defendant’s Deed was forged. In fact, ALBPC was able to secure the testimony of grantors and of the notary public who notarized their signatures, each of whom flatly contradict Plaintiffs’ allegations that the signatures were forged.

As to Plaintiff’s second cause of action for adverse possession, the Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. team had to get creative. A post-2008 claim of adverse possession requires that the party seeking adverse possession establish that their claim to the subject property was “under a claim of right.” New York Real Property Actions and Proceeding Law § 501(3) defines a claim of right as “a reasonable basis for the belief that the property belongs to the adverse possessor.” There is no case law deciding whether record notice of another party’s superior title to property prohibits an adverse possessor from claiming a reasonable basis for a belief that the subject property belongs to him/her. However, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. was able to draw parallels to case law interpreting the New York Recording Act. This allowed the team to successfully argue that because Plaintiffs’ deed was recorded after Defendant’s deed, as of the date Defendant’s deed was recorded, Plaintiffs knew or should have known of Defendant’s superior title to the subject property, thus prohibiting Plaintiffs from establishing the “claim of right” requirement of adverse possession law.

Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. was also able to handily dispense with Plaintiffs’ remaining claims. Equitable estoppel was not available because that doctrine requires that Defendant made a representation to Plaintiffs, on which Plaintiffs relied to their detriment. In this case, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. secured testimony from the Plaintiffs that they had never even met the Defendant, let alone communicated with anyone on its behalf. The same stood true for Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim. Such a claim requires some kind of agreement or transaction between the parties. But here, again, the parties had never even met. Lastly, because Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. was able to establish that no evidence was put forth by Plaintiffs that Defendant engaged in any wrongdoing, no viable claim for unclean hands existed. Furthermore, the Court found that even if Plaintiffs had presented any evidence to support these three claims, as demonstrated by Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C., each of them was time barred.

Adam Leitman Bailey, Colin E. Kaufman and Courtney J. Lerias represented Adam Leitman Bailey, PC on this matter.​​

Published Decision

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