A group of landowners in Greenville County, South Carolina, have filed inverse condemnation claims against the federal government for the taking of their land abutting the 3.29-mile-long railroad corridor. The Carolina, Knoxville & Western Railway originally built the rail line in 1888. For a portion of the line, the Railroad acquired a right-of-way easement limited to railroad purposes. And, for other parts of the line, the Railroad just went ahead and built the line without any written conveyance, but by the powers authorized in its charter. Under the terms of the original conveyances and South Carolina law, when a railroad no longer operated across the line, the easements were terminated, and the present-day owners regained unencumbered title to the land.
In December 2014, the current owner (the Greenville County Economic Development Group) sought to abandon the line and transfer it to Greenville County for a recreational trail. On May 18, 2015, the federal Surface Transportation Board issued an order (the Notice of Interim Trail Use or Abandonment, or NITU) which authorized the Economic Development Group to negotiate with Greenville County for trail use. This federal order – the NITU – prevented 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. This is the “federal taking” that took these landowners’ properties in May 2015. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that this taking is constitutional, but that the government must pay the landowners “just compensation” pursuant to the Fifth Amendment.
The South Carolina landowners filed their claims on June 1. The landowners now have a limited period to join any other neighboring landowners who wish to vindicate their constitution rights to just compensation for the government’s taking of their property.
For more information about this case, please contact Lindsay Brinton.