August 28, 2017

Do You Have an Abandoned Railroad Right-of-Way on Your Property?

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On March 10, 2014, the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Marvin Brandt Revocable Trust vs. U.S., decided that a right-of-way acquired pursuant to The General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 was an easement that terminated when the railroad company abandoned the right-of-way.

The Brandt family acquired real estate in fee from the federal government subject only to the railroad company’s right-of-way.  Subsequently, the railroad company abandoned the right-of-way. The federal government filed a declaratory judgment action claiming title to the abandoned right-of-way. The Brandt family contested the federal government’s action. 

The District Court granted the federal government a summary judgment. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the summary judgment.

The Supreme Court reversed holding that the right-of-way was an easement and once abandoned terminated and therefore the real estate belonged to the Brandt family.

This decision applies only to abandoned right-of-way that was acquired by the railroad company pursuant to the terms of The General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875. The decision does not apply to abandoned right-of-way acquired prior to that date or directly from private land owners.