March 10, 2014 United States Supreme Court opinion

Marvin M. Brant Revocable Trust v United States

The government sought to quiet title in land over which an abandoned railroad right of way ran. Trust argued that the right of way was an easement and once abandoned the underlying land became Trust’s property. Ten district court granted judgment to the government and the 10th Circuit affirmed. Resolving a split of authority on the issue, the Court, 8-1, reversed. The majority held that the applicable statute, the General Railroad Right-of Way Act of 1875, had been construed to grant only an easement in the 1942 case of great Northern Railroad v United States. The majority thus rejected the government’s attempt to change position on the matter and distinguished the cases offered in support as involving competing claims by private parties. The dissent argued that Northern railway did not hold the right of way was an easement and in any event the grants of right of way have long been held to include a reversionary interest to United States.

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