The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Wyoming Landowner in Forest Service Rails to Trails Case 8-1
March 10, 2014 — The Supreme Court issued its opinion this morning in Marvin M. Brant Revocable Trust v. United States, ruling in favor of Fox Park, WY landowner, Marvin Brant 8-1. The lone dissent came from Justice Sotomayor. The Supreme Court decision overturns a 10th Cir. option reached in September of 2012 which found in favor of the United States (and upheld a decision reached by Wyoming Federal District Court in April of 2008).
The case involves 200 ft. right-of-way granted initially to the Laramie, Hahn’s Peak & Pacific Railway Company under the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, which crosses Mr. Brant’s property in Fox Park, WY which is surrounded by the Medicine Bow National Forest. After the rail line was abandoned in 1996, the United States sought to quiet title against Brant and approximately 50 other landowners over whose lands a portion of the granted right-of-way crossed in order to create a Rail-to-Trails recreational trail along the abandoned rail line. Brant was the sole landowner to fight the quite title action.
In the case, the United argued that upon abandonment it retained an implied reversionary interest in the 1875 Act right-of-way, but not the underlying lands or minerals making it a limited fee right-of-way. Brant, through his counsel Mountain States Legal Foundation, argued that the 1875 Act right-of-way grant was only an easement and upon abandonment the underlying patented land became unburden by the easement because the United States did not retain an implied reversionary interest when it patented the land.
The Supreme Court agreeing with Brant issued the following official holding: “[t]he right of way was an easement that was terminated by the railroad’s abandonment, leaving Brandt’s land unburdened.”
A slip copy of the opinion is available here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-1173_nlio.pdf