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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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