DENVER, CO. A Wyoming man seeking to overturn rulings by a Wyoming federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in favor of the U.S. Forest Service in a dispute over whether his land may be used as a federal trail today won a nearly unanimous victory before the Supreme Court of the United States. Marvin Brandt, of Fox Park, claims title to a railroad right-of-way that bisects his property. The right-of-way was used by a railroad from 1904 to 1995 when the railroad abandoned it; tracks and ties were removed by 2000. A Wyoming federal district court ruled the United States kept a reversionary interest in the right-of-way that could be used for a recreational trail, rejecting Mr. Brandt’s view that the right-of-way was an easement in which the United States has no interest. A Tenth Circuit three-judge panel upheld the ruling in September 2012. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the 8-1 majority, “nothing in the text of the 1875 Act supports [the federal government’s] improbable (and self-serving) reading.”
“This is a great victory for Marvin Brandt who had the courage to fight back, for millions of landowners who might find themselves in his shoes, and for those who supported our efforts on his behalf,” said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represented Mr. Brandt.
On February 25, 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, Wyoming, 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, Wyoming, 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. The private land areas of 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 of private land patented to him on February 18, 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. On July 14, 2006, the United States sued Mr. Brandt and others. The court ruled on March 3, 2009.
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 economic freedom. Its offices are in the Denver, Colorado, metropolitan area.
For more information: Brandt v. United States