A group of landowners in Webster County, Kentucky, have filed inverse condemnation claims against the federal government for the taking of their land abutting the abandoned 8.5 mile-long Western Kentucky Railway corridor. The Railroad had an easement limited to railroad purposes. Under the terms of the relevant easement instruments and under Kentucky law, once the Railroad ceased operating a railroad across the right-of-way, the railroad easement was abandoned and Plaintiffs, as the fee owners, regained their right to the exclusive use and physical possession of their property.
As our friend and takings law expert Robert Thomas noted today here, Congress, by statute, cannot limit the Constitution’s guarantee that landowners receive “just compensation” when the government takes their property.
More than 75 landowners have filed their Fifth Amendment takings claims against the federal government in this case. The government took the Lawrence and Martin County landowners’ property on March 25, 2010 when it issued an order allowing the Indiana Trails Fund to acquire their property for a public recreational trail. Under Indiana law, when the railroad abandoned its railroad operations, the land under its right-of-way should have reverted to the adjacent landowners. But the federal Trails Act prevented this from happening and, instead, allowed the trail group to acquire the land.
Almost 50 landowners have filed their Fifth Amendment takings claims against the federal government in this case. The government took the McMinn County landowners’ property on August 12, 2009 when it issued an order allowing McMinn County to acquire their property for a public recreational trail. Under Tennessee law, when CSXT abandoned its railroad operations, the land under its right-of-way should have reverted to the adjacent landowners. But the federal Trails Act prevented this from happening and, instead, allowed McMinn County to acquire the land.
Arent Fox has filed an appeal (appeal brief available here) on behalf of a New York City landowner whose property was taken by the federal government for the creation of the well-known “High Line” rail-trail park.
We will be holding informational meetings for landowners whose claims the government has agreed to pay. In addition, we will also be holding an open house on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 from 9:00am to 5:00pm (with a presentation at 12:00pm) at the Hampton Inn Buffalo South, in West Seneca, New York.
Arent Fox filed claims for compensation on behalf of Michigan landowners’ whose property was taken by the federal government for the construction of a recreational trail. The claims were filed in both the US Court of Federal Claims and the US District Court for the Western District of Michigan (US District Court complaint here).
Our cases relating to the Rock Island Railroad corridor are getting a lot of attention. The Kansas City Star recently wrote an editorial, “Pick Up the Pace on Building Rock Island Trail across Missouri,” stating that “when done, [the Rock Island Trail] could stretch a couple hundred scenic miles across the state and finally help link the Kansas City area to the highly popular Katy Trail.”
The government has recently stipulated to its liability for taking a number of properties in this case. For these properties, the government agreed that under New York law, the original railroad only acquired a limited easement to run trains over the railroad right-of-way. When the railroad abandoned its right-of-way and stopped running trains, the easement was then extinguished. The landowners owning the land under the right-of-way should have regained their land free and clear of any easements.
ABOUT ARENT FOX LLP
Arent Fox LLP, founded in 1942, is internationally recognized in core practice areas where business and government intersect. With more than 350 lawyers, the firm provides strategic legal counsel and multidisciplinary solutions to clients that range from Fortune 500 corporations to trade associations. The firm has offices in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.