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America Thanks Wyoming's Brandt Family

Date: March 10, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo., March 10, 2014—Today’s U.S. Supreme Court victory by a Wyoming family is cause for celebration throughout the country for believers in the rule of law, property rights and constitutional protections for the small against the big.

“When the Union Pacific Railroad put several hundreds of miles of track into abandonment status, there was a mad rush of public access groups insisting that federal law required the roadbed be made into trails,” said Tony Gagliardi, Wyoming state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court answers the legal right of ownership question once and for all, and landowners will finally receive just compensation for their land.”

According to a national news release issued earlier today by NFIB, “The case [Brandt v United States] involved the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, under which thousands of miles of rights-of-way were established across the United States. The act allowed railroads to acquire easements all over the country in order to lay tracks. These easements were written so that they would revert back to the property owner in the event the railroads ever abandoned the easements. But in 1988, Congress passed a ‘railbanking’ statute which holds that upon abandonment, these easements could be morphed into a public recreational trail, with the landowner receiving no compensation.

“In this case Marvin Brandt acquired land in Wyoming that came with a pre-existing railroad easement. In 2001, the railroad, which had long owned the easement, abandoned all claims to the easement. The Brandt family therein obtained complete ownership of the land in question. However, in 2006 the United States government sued for title to the land on the theory that the federal government retained a residual claim to it after the railroad abandoned the easement. Brandt argued that the federal government had no legitimate claim to the abandoned easement and could not take that land without running afoul of the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. The Tenth Circuit ruled in favor of the federal government, holding that upon abandonment the land reverted to the United States. Today, the Supreme Court reversed that decision—making clear that the Brandt’s acquired all rights in the subject land once the railroad abandoned its easement, and affirming the principle that government cannot redefine previously recognized property rights out of existence.”

Further comment from NFIB Legal Center Executive Director Karen Harned available in the hyperlink above.

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For more than 70 years, the National Federation of Independent Business has been the Voice of Small Business, taking the message from Main Street to the halls of Congress and all 50 state legislatures. NFIB annually surveys its members on state and federal issues vital to their survival as America's economic engine and biggest creator of jobs. NFIB’s educational mission is to remind policymakers that small businesses are not smaller versions of bigger businesses; they have very different challenges and priorities.

National Federation of Independent Business/Wyoming
Box 2270
Cheyenne, WY 82001
307-635-8524

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Today's ruling affirms the principle that government cannot redefine previously recognized property rights out of existence.

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