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REAL ESTATE 64: The Plaintiff met her burden of proof in her quiet title action to establish a prima facie case of title to the property at issue.

Plaintiff filed this action to quiet title to residential property she purchased, allegedly from defendant, in 2015, pursuant to a quitclaim deed. Intervening defendant claimed it acquired superior title to the property in November 2016 and also traced its chain of title to Defendant. Intervening defendant attacked the validity of plaintiff’s 2015 deed, arguing that it was a bona fide purchaser for value when it acquired the property in 2016. Both parties moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10). The trial court granted plaintiff’s motion and quieted title in favor of plaintiff. Intervening defendant appeals as of right, and we now affirm.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A trial court’s decision on a motion for summary disposition is reviewed de novo. The issue on appeal is whether plaintiff met the burden of proving that title to the property should be quieted in her name. In an action to quiet title, the claimant must establish a prima facie case of title in the subject property. The burden then shifts to the adverse party to prove a superior interest.

VALIDITY OF PLAINTIFF’S DEED

Intervening Defendant first argues that plaintiff never acquired a valid interest in the property from the outset, because the August 24, 2015, quitclaim deed contained an erroneous legal description of the property, and because the grantor’s and the notary’s names were forged. We disagree. A notarial acknowledgement is required for a deed to be recordable; but an invalid or absent notarial acknowledgment does not “void an otherwise valid conveyance of real estate,” because “an instrument of conveyance is good as between the parties even though not executed with such formalities as to permit it to be recorded.” Intervening Defendant next argues that Defendant’s name was forged. A claim to property cannot be made by a bona fide holder of a forged deed. Intervening Defendant had the burden of proving that the signature was a forgery. However, Intervening Defenant  only proffered an un-notarized affidavit purporting to be from an attorney who worked for Kim McNamara, averring that Kim McNamara had never visited the United States. Because that affidavit was not verified by oath or affirmation, it need not be considered evidence. The trial court properly declined to invalidate the deed on the basis of the alleged but unproved forgery of Kim McNamara’s signature. Finally, Intervening Defendant argues plaintiff did not acquire a valid interest in the property because the deed contained an incorrect legal description for the property. We disagree. Importantly, the deed did not omit a property description or lack any reference to the correct address of the property. Rather, there was a variance between the address and the legal description for the property being conveyed. Plaintiff’s deed, on its face, satisfied all of the common law requirements. The deed did not fail to describe the property being conveyed, but instead contained inconsistent descriptions of the property.

Because plaintiff met her burden of establishing a prima facie case of title in the subject property, the burden shifted to Intervening Defendant to prove a superior interest. Thus, it argues that it was a bona fide purchaser for value because it did not have notice of plaintiff’s possible interest in the property. We disagree. This state’s race-notice statute, MCL 565.29, provides, in pertinent part: Every conveyance of real estate within the state hereafter made, which shall not be recorded as provided in this chapter, shall be void as against any subsequent purchaser in good faith and for a valuable consideration, of the same real estate or any portion thereof, whose conveyance shall be first duly recorded. A good-faith purchaser is one who purchases without notice of a defect in the vendor’s title. Presumably, Intervening Defendant lacked actual notice of plaintiff’s claim to title. However, notice of properly recorded documents will be imputed to subsequent buyers, irrespective of their actual knowledge. Furthermore, subsequent buyers may not engage in willful ignorance: “When a person has knowledge of such facts as would lead any honest man, using ordinary caution, to make further inquiries concerning the possible rights of another in real estate, and fails to make them, he is chargeable with notice of what such inquiries and the exercise of ordinary caution would have disclosed. Notice does not require actual knowledge of another’s interest in property; the mere possibility of the rights or equities held by another will suffice. As discussed, the deed ostensibly from Defendant to Intervening Defendant was made before plaintiff recorded her deed. However, this deed was recorded after plaintiff had recorded her deed.

CONCLUSION

Plaintiff’s evidence established that she acquired title to the disputed property pursuant to an August 24, 2015 quitclaim deed from Defendant, which plaintiff recorded on September 14, 2015. Although the deed contained an inaccurate legal description of the property, it also described the property by reference to its common address, and the evidence demonstrated that the parties intended for the deed to be operative with respect to the property at that common address. The trial court was permitted to reform the deed to comport with this intent. Further, Intervening Defendant failed to establish that the error in the property’s legal description or that an alleged forgery of the notary’s signature affected the validity of the conveyance as between plaintiff and Defendant, as grantor. Intervening Defendant also failed to provide factual support for any claim that Kim McNamara’s name on the deed was forged. Therefore, plaintiff met her burden of establishing a prima facie case of title to the subject property. The evidence also established that Intervening Defendant had constructive notice of facts sufficient to trigger further inquiry of plaintiff’s possible interest in the property. In addition, an appropriate inquiry would have revealed the prior conveyance from Defendant to plaintiff in August 2015, and plaintiff’s occupancy of the property after that date. Therefore, Intervening Defendant cannot be considered a bona fide purchaser under MCL 565.29. Accordingly, the trial court did not err by ruling that Intervening Defendant did not establish a superior interest in the property and by quieting title in favor of plaintiff.

ASSISTANCE WITH PROPERTY ISSUES

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