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Arizona Court of Appeals Awards Attorneys’ Fees in Quiet-Title Action

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In Arizona, a party successfully quieting title to property may recover its attorneys’ fees if it satisfies three requirements: (1) the party requests a quitclaim deed from the party adversely claiming title twenty days before bringing the quiet-title action; (2) the party tenders five dollars for the execution and delivery of the deed; and (3) the adverse party fails to comply. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-1103(B). Recently, in McCleary v. Tripodi, No. 2 CA-CV 2016-0145, 2017 WL 3723472 (Ariz. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2017), the Arizona Court of Appeals awarded attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party under this statute.

In McCleary v. Tripodi, Mrs. Tripodi, who became the administrator of her husband’s estate upon his death, wrongfully recorded three deeds purporting to transfer property to herself. After unsuccessfully attempting to get Mrs. Tripodi to quitclaim the property, the plaintiffs filed a quiet-title action. The trial court agreed that the plaintiffs were the legal and rightful owners, granted summary judgment in plaintiffs’ favor, and awarded attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs.

Twenty days before filing the quiet-title action, the plaintiffs sought a quitclaim deed from Mrs. Tripodi and tendered a five-dollar check for the execution and delivery of the deed. Mrs. Tripodi refused to sign the quitclaim deed. The court of appeals found that the plaintiffs satisfied Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-1103(B) by seeking a quitclaim deed from Mrs. Tripodi twenty days before filing the quiet-title action and by tendering a five-dollar check. Though plaintiffs satisfied these requirements, the court of appeals noted that the trial court still had discretion to award the attorneys’ fees. In exercising that discretion, the trial court could consider (1) the merits of the unsuccessful party’s claim or defense, (2) whether litigation could have been avoided or settled, (3) whether an award would cause extreme hardship to the unsuccessful party, (4) whether the successful party prevailed with respect to all the relief sought, (5) novelty of the legal questions, (6) whether the claim or defense had been previously decided in the jurisdiction, and (7) whether the award would deter others with viable claims or defenses from vindicating their rights.  After discussing these factors, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s attorneys’ fees award, concluding that Mrs. Tripodi’s claims lacked substantial merit or novelty, the litigation could have been avoided or settled, and the plaintiffs prevailed on all of their claims.

McCleary v. Tripodi serves as a reminder that litigants can use Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-1103(B) to reduce needless litigation and mitigate the expenses incurred to establish a just claim. But, even if a party satisfies Section 12-1103(B), an attorneys’ fees award is not automatic. Instead, the trial court must also consider whether it should exercise its discretion to do so.