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Justices rule on railbanking certified question

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The Indiana Supreme Court has issued an answer to a certified question about how state law plays into a federal railroad right-of-way case that involves property owners who want their land rights back for easements that once belonged to a railroad company.  

In Henry L. Howard, et al. v. United States, No. 94S00-1106-CQ-333, a majority determined that federal laws on railbanking and interim trail use are not land uses within the scope of the easements dictated by Indiana law, and that railbanking with interim trail use does not constitute a permissible shifting public use.

The case arises from a certified question posed by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. Focused on property owners’ rights in Cass and Pulaski counties, this federal case involves 128 plaintiffs who are challenging the U.S. government’s authority to use their land that had once been owned by railroads in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The residents live in counties adjacent to the 21-mile railroad line that hasn’t been active since 2002. The residents argue the land rights of a nearby easement returned to them in 2003, but the federal government disagreed and tried to use a legal maneuver known as railbanking to keep land rights of that easement. The government argues that under Indiana law, the railroad rights-of-way hadn’t been abandoned and there was no unjust taking of land as the property owners contend.

Pulaski County resident Henry Howard filed a class-action lawsuit in September 2009, alleging that the federal government violated the Fifth Amendment provision prohibiting the taking of one’s property for public use without just compensation. The Department of Justice in December 2010 asked the federal judge to certify a question to the Indiana Supreme Court.

In a ruling written by Justice Brent Dickson, the Indiana court held that a public trail is not within the scope of easements acquired for the purpose of operating a line of railways. The original purpose was to transmit goods by train, and Dickson wrote that the easement can’t now be recast for the use of a public recreational trail without exceeding the scope of the easement and infringing on the landowners’ rights.

State precedent from 1968 makes clear that the focus of an easement remains on the purpose at the time of its acquisition, Dickson wrote. Indiana has never recognized the “shifting public use” doctrine and the justices declined to do so here.

Chief Justice Randall Shepard disagreed with his four colleagues, concluding that the contemplated railbanking and interim trail uses do fall within the scope of the easements presented.

 

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  1. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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