Forty-Year Act used to extinguish city’s interest in land

by Allison Arends

City Of Lake View vs. Patrick L. Houston (link to case here)
(Unpublished opinion, Iowa Court of Appeals, December 31, 2008)

Landowner uses Marketable Record Title Act to extinguish city’s claimed interest in roadway identified on plats.

In 1964 Houston was conveyed by warranty deed a half interest to property in Sac County. This property included the disputed property: a 33-foot by 110-foot strip of undeveloped land identified by Sac County in 1874 for a county road that was never built.  Although the deed did include the disputed property, Houston was not assessed property taxes on it until 1998 when the Sac County assessor received a title opinion that Houson was the owner. In 2006 the city of Lake View filed a petition to quiet title to the disputed property, arguing that its ownership was superior to any interest of Houston’s.

Lake View’s claim of ownership over the disputed property was based on two recorded plats.  The first – the Dension Beach Plat of 1916, replatted in 1932 – included lines depicting the disputed property as “north-south roadway,”  but the the property itself was not platted.  The second – the Lakewood Park Plat in 1933 – depicted the disputed area as part of  “Government Lot 1,” but Government Lot 1 was not a part of the platted area of Lakewood Park.  The city’s expert witness testified that because Houston’s deed referred to “Government Lots 1 and 2″ a title examiner was obligated to consider plats identifying Government Lots 1 and 2, although the expert also acknowledged that Houson’s deed did not specifically refer to either the Denison Beach Plat nor the Lakewood Park Plat.  The district court ruled in favor of Lake View, stating that “the recorded plats clearly identify the road and all plats involved were recorded prior to the deed transferring the disputed lot to Houston.”  

Houston appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals, claiming that Lake View’s petition to quiet title was barred by Iowa’s Marketable Record Title Act (found at Iowa Code 614.29 to 614.38) (commonly known as the “forty-year act”).   Intended to simplify land title transactions, the Act states that “subject to certain exceptions… a person is deemed to have a marketable record title to any interest in land if that person has an unbroken chain of title of record to such interest for forty years or more.” It was undisputed that Houston has had a forty-year unbroken chain of record title to the disputed property.  Therefore, in order for Lake View to avoid having its interest in the property extinguished by the Act it must prove that it falls within one of the identified exceptions. 

The exception to the Act relevant to this case is set out in Iowa Code 614.32(1).  In a previous case the Iowa Supreme Court determined that the applicability of the exception depends on the answers to three questions:  (1) whether the interest in the disputed property is inherent in the “muniments of title” (the legal instruments through which title to land passes)  forming the landowner’s chain of record title;  (2) whether the interest was created prior to the landowner’s root of title; and  (3) whether the deeds specifically identify the record title transaction that created the interest. 

Lake View’s interest in the property arose prior to Houston’s 1964 warranty deed, thereby answering the second question in favor of the city.  However, the Court found that neither the first nor third questions could be resolved for the city.  The Court  found that because plats are not “deeds, wills or otherwise instruments through which title to land passes,” the city’s interest was not inherent in a minument of title.  Furthermore, because Houston’s 1964 deed did not specifically identify the plats upon which the city depended to illustrate the creation of its interest, neither was the third requirement of section 614.32 satisfied.  The Court concluded, therefore, that Lake View’s interest was extinguished under the Marketable Recort Title Act, and dismissed Lake View’s petition to quiet title.

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