Proper Service is Key - Service by Publication

Proper Service for Quiet Title Lawsuits

Updated on January 10, 2022

Why is proper service important in a lawsuit? Below, we take a look at a case where the requirements for a proper service by publication were not met, and some of the ramifications of not properly serving defendants.
In a recent partially published quiet title decision, Humphrey v. Bewley, the Court of Appeals of California, Fourth District, Division Two invalidated a plaintiff’s service by publication where the plaintiff did not strictly adhere to the quiet title statute’s very specific rules for service by publication.
(To know more about quiet title actions, refer to our blog here.)

Why Proper Service by Publication Is Important

Proper service of a summon and complaint is always important because it is what allows the court to exercise its jurisdiction or power over the named defendants.  Without proper jurisdiction, the court has no power over the defendant.

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Proper service is especially important in quiet title actions where often times the defendants are difficult to locate or may no longer be alive or exist.  When you cannot locate the defendant, then usually a plaintiff’s only choice is then to prove to the court that it has exhausted its attempts at traditional service and apply for service by publication — service via the newspaper.

In a quiet title action, Code Civ. Proc., § 763.020, in part, governs the rules for publication.  Specifically, it provides that for service by publication to be proper “in addition to particularly describing the property, the publication shall describe the property by giving its street address, if any, or other common designation”. Moreover, “If a legal description of the property is given, the validity of the publication shall not be affected by… the fact the street address or other common designation is omitted”.

Service by Publication Requirements

Service by publication requires strict compliance with the applicable statutes. County of Riverside v. Superior Court, 54 Cal. App. 4th 443, 450 (1997). In the Humphrey v. Bewley matter, the court held Humphrey did not properly effect service by publication because the notices that the plaintiff published specified the property only by assessor’s parcel number (“APN”) and not by either legal description or street address. The court reasoned that even if the APN is a sufficiently particular description, it still does not qualify as a legal description under the statute, thus by not including the street address, the publication was defective. The APN cannot serve as both the “particular description” and the “common designation” nor is it considered the legal description of the property.

In Humphrey, plaintiff’s defective service by publication allowed defendant to beat out any priority the quiet title case would have otherwise enjoyed.

Schedule Free Consultation

Schorr Law, APC has experience with a wide array of quiet title matters.  Often times, we have to request service by publication to clear old liens or encumbrances and protect property owners’ interest in their property. To schedule a consult with a real estate attorney in California, call us at (310) 954-1877 or email us at [email protected].