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Law School Case Brief

Brandt Tr. v. United States - 572 U.S. 93, 134 S. Ct. 1257 (2014)

Rule:

An easement is a nonpossessory right to enter and use land in the possession of another and obligates the possessor not to interfere with the uses authorized by the easement. Unlike most possessory estates, easements may be unilaterally terminated by abandonment, leaving the servient owner with a possessory estate unencumbered by the servitude. In other words, if the beneficiary of the easement abandons it, the easement disappears, and the landowner resumes his full and unencumbered interest in the land.

Facts:

Respondent United States brought an action against petitioner owner of real property to quiet title in the government, rather than the owner, to a railroad right of way across the owner's property which was abandoned by a railroad. Upon the grant of a writ of certiorari, the owner appealed the judgment in favor of the government entered in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The government contended that it retained an implied reversionary interest in the railroad right of way which it granted to a railroad, but the owner asserted that the government granted only an easement which terminated when the right of way was abandoned. Certiorari review was granted.

Issue:

Did the Government under the 1875 Act retain a reversionary interest in land once the railroad abandoned it?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that the right of way was an easement that was terminated by the railroad’s abandonment, leaving the owner's land unburdened by any interest of the government. Precedent that held that a railroad had no mineral rights in an abandoned railroad right of way established that the right of way was an easement, and the easement disappeared when the right of way was abandoned, leaving the owner to resume a full and unencumbered interest in the property.

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