NORTH OLYMPIC
CHAPTER
 

LAND SURVEYOR
S' ASSOCIATION OF WASHINGTON
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Summary of 

Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States
(downloadable opinion below)


Posted 3/19/2014 by Brad Lymangrover, PLS

In 1976, the United States patented an 83-acrel parcel of land to the Brandts. The patent stated that the land was granted “subject to those rights for railroad purposes that have been granted to the Laramie, Hahn’s Peak & Pacific Railway Company [LHP&P], its successor and assigns.” The patent did not reference a reversionary interest in the corridor. The right of way was granted to the LHP&P under the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875. The LHP&P completed construction in 1911 of a line connecting Laramie, Wyoming and Coalmont, Colorado. The railroad failed to be lucrative, changed hands several times, and was eventually abandoned in 2004 with the approval of the Surface Transportation Board.

In 2006, the United States initiated an action seeking a further declaration of abandonment and an order quieting title in the United States to the abandoned right of way. The Brands were one of 31 land owners named in the suit. While the other landowners settled or were defaulted in the litigation, the Brandts contested the Government’s claim arguing that they owned the underlying fee and the federal government had no interest. The United States claimed a reversionary interest in the railroad right of way under the federal General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, one of several Acts that granted railroad companies rights to corridors crossing federal land in the in the post- Civil War era.

In an 8-1 decision, the United States Supreme Court held that the land grant to railroad companies under the 1875 Act created easements. Once an easement is abandoned, it terminates, leaving the underlying fee unencumbered. The Court rejected the arguments that the interest granted under the 1875 act reverted to the United States as the original grantor. The Court distinguished earlier opinions that described the interest of the United States as a reversionary interest. The Court was very critical of the United States for making arguments that appeared to contradict briefing the United States submitted in a case argued 60 years earlier, Great Northern Railway Co. v. United States, 315 U.S. 262 (1942) (railroad had no interest in oil and minerals located beneath the right-of-way granted under 1975 Act).

Spruce Railroad History Files
Posted by Brad Lymangrover, PLS