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NACo joins 'rails-to-trails' Supreme Court brief

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  • County News Article

    NACo joins 'rails-to-trails' Supreme Court brief

    NACo has signed onto the State and Local Legal Center's (SLLC) amicus curiae brief in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States involving the question of who owns abandoned federally granted railroad rights of way. The SLLC's brief argues that the court should rule in favor of the United States instead of the landowner whose property the right of way runs through. Such a ruling will preserve the ability of counties to establish "public highways" on abandoned railroad rights of way. Counties typically convert them into "Rails-to-Trails."

    In 1908, the United States granted the Laramie, Hahn's Peak and Pacific Railroad Company a right of way to build a railroad over public land pursuant to the General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875. In 1976, the predecessor to the Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust bought land in Wyoming surrounding part of this railroad right of way. In 2004, the railroad abandoned the right of way. The trust argued that it owns the abandoned right of way. The 10th Circuit disagreed concluding that a number of federal statutes provide that the United States retains a "reversionary interest" in General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875 rights of way.

    If the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court, counties will benefit. A federal statute, if found applicable by the court, grants the United States title to abandoned railroad rights of way unless a "public highway" is established on the right of way within one year of abandonment. Public highways include recreational trails.

    The Supreme Court usually accepts cases where at least two federal circuit courts of appeals have ruled differently on the same issue. In a similar case, Samuel C. Johnson 1988 Trust v. Bayfield County, Wisconsin, the 7th Circuit ruled against Bayfield County, Wis., who intended to build a snowmobile trail on an abandoned railroad right of way.

    The SLLC amicus brief argues that state and local governments have long relied on the federal statutes relevant to this case to build public highways in abandoned railroad rights of way. The SLLC's brief also argues that legislative history indicates that the United States retained an interest in rights of way granted under the General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875.

    The National Conference of State Legislatures, the National League of Cities, the International City/County Management Association, U.S. Conference of Mayors, the International Municipal Lawyers Association and the American Planning Association also signed onto the SLLC's brief.

    Oral argument has been scheduled for Jan. 14. The Supreme Court will issue an opinion in this case by June 30, 2014.

    NACo has signed onto the State and Local Legal Center's amicus curiae brief in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States involving the question of who owns abandoned federally granted railroad rights of way.
    2014-01-13
    County News Article
    2018-06-01

NACo has signed onto the State and Local Legal Center's (SLLC) amicus curiae brief in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States involving the question of who owns abandoned federally granted railroad rights of way. The SLLC's brief argues that the court should rule in favor of the United States instead of the landowner whose property the right of way runs through. Such a ruling will preserve the ability of counties to establish "public highways" on abandoned railroad rights of way. Counties typically convert them into "Rails-to-Trails."

In 1908, the United States granted the Laramie, Hahn's Peak and Pacific Railroad Company a right of way to build a railroad over public land pursuant to the General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875. In 1976, the predecessor to the Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust bought land in Wyoming surrounding part of this railroad right of way. In 2004, the railroad abandoned the right of way. The trust argued that it owns the abandoned right of way. The 10th Circuit disagreed concluding that a number of federal statutes provide that the United States retains a "reversionary interest" in General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875 rights of way.

If the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court, counties will benefit. A federal statute, if found applicable by the court, grants the United States title to abandoned railroad rights of way unless a "public highway" is established on the right of way within one year of abandonment. Public highways include recreational trails.

The Supreme Court usually accepts cases where at least two federal circuit courts of appeals have ruled differently on the same issue. In a similar case, Samuel C. Johnson 1988 Trust v. Bayfield County, Wisconsin, the 7th Circuit ruled against Bayfield County, Wis., who intended to build a snowmobile trail on an abandoned railroad right of way.

The SLLC amicus brief argues that state and local governments have long relied on the federal statutes relevant to this case to build public highways in abandoned railroad rights of way. The SLLC's brief also argues that legislative history indicates that the United States retained an interest in rights of way granted under the General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the National League of Cities, the International City/County Management Association, U.S. Conference of Mayors, the International Municipal Lawyers Association and the American Planning Association also signed onto the SLLC's brief.

Oral argument has been scheduled for Jan. 14. The Supreme Court will issue an opinion in this case by June 30, 2014.

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