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Wyoming Man’s ‘Just Compensation’ Case Reinstated by Washington, D.C., Appeals Court

By William Perry Pendley

DENVER - A Wyoming man whose lawsuit-in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., for "just compensation" for use of his private property as a federal trail-was dismissed in November 2011, won a victory March 26 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reinstated his lawsuit.

Marvin M. Brandt of Fox Park, who claims title to a railroad right-of-way and a road that accesses his property, asserts that, but for a federal rails-to-trails law, an easement owned by a railroad would have reverted to him. Mr. Brandt argues the land claimed by the United States was used as a railroad right-of-way from 1904 until 1995, when the railroad abandoned it; all tracks and ties were removed by 2000. The land subject to a railroad right-of-way was conveyed to Mr. Brandt in 1976; the United States retained no interest in it. After a Wyoming federal district court ruled against Mr. Brandt, he filed his federal claims court suit. His appeal of the Wyoming district court's ruling is pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver.

"We are delighted the court ruled the claims court erred in dismissing the case," said Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) President William Perry Pendley. MSLF represents Brandt. "No other case was pending when the takings lawsuit was filed."

In February 1904, pursuant to the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act, the Laramie, Hahns Peak and Pacific Railroad Company filed with the U.S. Department of the Interior and, thus, in 1908, acquired a 200-foot-wide 66-mile-long right-of-way from Laramie, Wyo., to the Colorado State line. The railroad operated until September 1995 and, in May 1996, the railroad's owner filed a Notice of Intent to Abandon Rail Service from near Laramie, Wyo., to the Colorado State line. The track and ties were removed in 1999 and 2000 and service terminated at the end of 2003.

The land along the railroad right-of-way was reserved from the public domain by presidential proclamation and became part of the Medicine Bow National Forest. Thus, private land areas in Albany, Fox Park, and Mountain Home along the right-of-way were acquired after creation of the railroad and are subject to it. At Albany, private lots were platted over the right-of-way and the land conveyed subject to the railroad. Abandonment of the railroad right-of-way thus creates a title conflict between these ownerships and the effects of the 1988 Rails-to-Trails Act. Mr. Brandt owns 83 acres patented to him in February 1976, as part of an exchange with the Forest Service.

In April 2005, the Forest Service issued a notice of its plans to convert the railway into a public trail. In July 2006, the United States sued Mr. Brandt and others. The Wyoming federal district court ruled April 2008.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, founded in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in metropolitan Denver.

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