Tort action not permitted for purely contractual claims.

Gloria and Wilian Salazar owned a piece of real property in Lorton, Virginia subject to a deed of trust granting a security interest in the property to the Salazars’ mortgage lender, GE Money Bank. In May of 2009, Equity Trustees was appointed as substitute trustee under the deed of trust. In June of 2009, when the Salazars allegedly became delinquent in mortgage payments, Equity Trustees initiated foreclosure proceedings. The Salazars filed suit in the Fairfax Circuit Court alleging two claims: (1) negligence as to Equity Trustees; and (2) a quiet title action. Equity Trustees filed a demurrer arguing that the Salazars failed to state a claim on both counts.

The circuit court sustained the demurrer as to the negligence claim on the grounds that: (1) Virginia law does not allow a plaintiff to plead a cause of action in tort with respect to duties that arise solely by virtue of a contract; (2) the negligence claim, a tort action, was based upon the alleged breach of fiduciary duties of Equity Trustees; and (3) because Equity Trustees owed fiduciary duties to the Salazars only based upon its contractual obligations under the deed of trust, the claim was in actuality based on contractual duties.  

The court overruled the demurrer as to the quiet title action on the grounds that: (1) a plaintiff in a quiet title action must plead and prove that he possesses superior title to the property over the defendant; (2) in this case, the Salazars dispute that any debt is owed under the deed of trust because the deed of trust was never properly transferred; (3) if no debt is owed to the defendant, then the foreclosure would be invalid and the Salazars would possesses superior title; and (4) thus, the Salazars properly asserted a claim of superior title and the quiet title action was appropriate.