Posts Tagged ‘property rights’

New Case Summary — Marvin Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States

Posted on: March 17th, 2014 by Cortney Taylor

United States Supreme Court

March 10, 2014

2014 U.S. LEXIS 1788

The US Supreme Court determined that a railroad right-of-way granted under an 1875 federal law was an easement only, and did not grant any title to the land.  Thus, when the railroad was abandoned, the right-of-way was terminated, and the property owner retained ownership.

The case concerned a rail right-of-way that was established pursuant to the General Railroad Right-of-way Act of 1875.  In the early part of the 20th century, a rail company obtained a right-of-way and constructed a rail line from Laramie, Wyoming to Coalmont, C0lorado.  The railroad crossed land that had been patented to a private owner, but the rail line took precedence.  By 1996, the rail line was no longer needed, and so it was abandoned, and all tracks removed.  In 2006, the Federal Government claimed ownership of the entire right-of-way, including the portion that crossed the private land, now owned by the Marvin Brandt Revocable Trust.

The US Supreme Court held that the right-of-way was only an easement, and did not grant any other title to the land. Thus, the Federal Government had no claim on privately owned land after the railroad was abandoned.  The government claimed a “reversionary interest” in the right-0f-way, but the Court held that no such interest existed.

New Case Summary — Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District

Posted on: June 25th, 2013 by Cortney Taylor

Supreme Court of the United States

Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District (Click for full text of Opinion)

June 25, 2013

     A property owner sought approval to develop land that was subject to wetland regulation by the water district.  The developer offered to offset the impact on the wetlands with a conservation easement.  However, the district rejected the proposal, and stated that it would not approve construction unless (1) the project were scaled back, and an easement covering the remaining portion of the property (over 75% of the total land area) be deeded to the district; and, (2) the developer pay for improvements on wetlands several miles away.

     The Court held that the district’s demands for property (the conservation easement) must satisfy the Nollan/Dolan Rough Proportionality analysis, even though the district denied the developer’s permit, and did not actually acquire the easement.  Extortionate demands for property in the land-use permitting context run afoul of the Takings Clause not because they actually take property, but because they impermissibly burden the right not to have property taken without just compensation.

     The Court also held that a demand for money (rather than property)  must also satisfy the Nollan/Dolan analysis.  Because the condition that the developer pay for improvements is directly linked to a proposed development, the central concern of both Nollan and Dolan are implicated–the risk that a government entity may deploy its substantial power to pursue governmental ends that lack the essential link and rough proportionality to the effects of the proposed use.

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