The Plaintiffs are the fee owners of property abutting a 24.7-mile rail line located in Kent, Ionia, and Montcalm counties in Michigan, and have filed their inverse condemnation claims against the federal government.
In 1871, the Detroit, Lansing & Lake Railroad Company established its railway between Belding, Michigan and Greenville, Michigan. In 1899, the Grand Rapids Belding & Saginaw Railroad Company opened its line between Belding, Michigan and Lowell, Michigan. The Railroads acquired the lines from several landowners who conveyed a limited easement for railroad purposes. Eventually, both rail lines were acquired by the Pere Marquette Railroad Company in 1900. Pere Marquette Railroad Company eventually conveyed the line, and it passed through a series of subsequent owners.
In 1987, Mid-Michigan Railroad, Inc. acquired the line. And, in 2008, Mid-Michigan Railroad, Inc. stopped using the line for railroad purposes. Under Michigan law, once the Railroad abandoned the line, the landowners (and their successors) should have owned their land free and clear of any easements.
On June 9, 2008, the federal Surface Transportation Board issued an order (the Notice of Interim Trail Use or Abandonment, or NITU), and a subsequent NITU incorporating the northern 2.82 miles of the right-of-way on April 28, 2009, both of which authorized the Railroad to negotiate with a trail operator for trail use. This federal order — the NITU — prevented the landowners from regaining their state law rights to the land. And, instead, the federal order allowed two new easements to be imposed on the property — one for recreational trail use and another for future railroad use at anytime in the future.
Pursuant to the Trails Act and this NITU, the Railroad entered into negotiations with the West Michigan Trails and Greenways Coalition (WMTGC) for acquisition of an easement for a public-access recreational trail to be located on the abandoned railroad corridor. The Railroad eventually entered into a trail use agreement with the private group Friends of the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail (Friends of Fred). Friends of Fred subsequently transferred the right-of-way to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). Under the terms of the original railroad easement(s) and under Michigan law, the Railroad does not own or possess any right to grant the WMTGC, the Friends of Fred, or the MDNR an easement across the Plaintiffs’ land.
The Michigan landowners filed their claims for compensation on April 29, 2014. The landowners now have a limited period to join any other neighboring landowners who wish to vindicate their constitutional rights to just compensation for the government’s taking of their property. Counsel for the landowners continue to meet with all interested Kent, Ionia, and Montcalm County landowners to discuss their claims for compensation in this case.
For more information about this case, please contact Meghan S. Largent.