Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Supreme Court rules for Wyoming landowner in contest over abandoned railroad right of way

A U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday could have a major impact on thousands of situations, mostly in the West, about who owns the rights to land where railways have been abandoned. The court voted 8 to 1 in favor of a Wyoming man who was fighting the federal government over a 200-foot-wide trail that crosses his property and was proposed for the ­“rails-to-trails” program that turns abandoned railroad lines into recreational venues for the public, Robert Barnes reports for The Washington Post. "During oral argument, it was unclear exactly how many miles of trails might be affected by the case, though the government said there are thousands of claims filed in 30 states." (Environment & Energy News photo by Jeremy Jacobs: Marvin Brandt standing at the former railroad stop in Fox Park, Wyo.)

Landowner Marvin Brandt "argued that the rail line was an easement, which becomes part of his property under an 1875 law," Barnes writes. "The government said the right of way reverts to the public." In siding with Brandt, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote: “Brandt’s land became unburdened of the easement, conferring on him the same full rights over the right of way as he enjoyed over the rest of the Fox Park parcel." Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who voted against the landowner, wrote: “Lawsuits challenging the conversion of former rails to recreational trails alone may well cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. I do not believe the law requires this result.” (Read more)

No comments: