property law

Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States

Issues: 

Does the United States have a reversionary interest in a railroad right-of-way created by the General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875 after the federal government granted the lands underlying the right-of-way to a private party?

The United States sought a declaratory judgment in federal district court to quiet title to an abandoned railroad right-of-way. Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust counterclaimed, seeking to quiet title to the right-of-way in its favor. The Tenth Circuit ruled that the Abandoned Railroad Right-of-Way Act and the National Trails System Improvement Act modified the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 to create a reversionary interest in the United States to abandoned railroad rights-of-way. The Trust argues that, under Supreme Court precedent, rights-of-way created by the 1875 Act should be considered easements, not reversionary interests. The United States claims that Congress preserved a reversionary interest in the United States under the 1875 Act, under which the right-of-way at issue was created. This case addresses a circuit split over whether the United States retains an implied reversionary interest in rights-of-way created under the 1875 Act. The Supreme Court will balance private property interests and the public’s interest in rehabilitating abandoned rail lines. More generally, the Court will address whether a grantor of real property impliedly retains an interest in land after it is sold.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

This case involves the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 ("1875 Act"), under which  thousands of miles of rights-of-way exist across the United States. In Great Northern Ry. Co. v. United States, 315 U.S. 262 (1942), this Court held that 1875 Act rights-of-way are easements and not limited fees with an implied reversionary interest. Based upon the 1875 Act and this Court's decisions, the Federal and Seventh Circuits have concluded that the United States did not retain an implied reversionary interest in 1875 Act rights-of-way after the underlying lands were patented into private ownership. In this case, the Tenth Circuit reached the opposite conclusion and acknowledged that its decision would continue a circuit split. The question presented is:

Did the United States retain an implied reversionary interest in 1875 Act rights-of way after the underlying lands were patented into private ownership?

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Facts

In 1908, pursuant to the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 (43 U.S.C. §§ 934-39) (“1875 Act”), the United States granted a right-of-way from Laramie, Wyoming to Colorado to the Hahn’s Peak and Pacific Railroad Company. See Petition for Writ of Certiorari at App.

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Open mines doctrine

In property law, a doctrine that permits a tenant to commit voluntary waste on a piece of land by depleting it of natural resources when mining was previously done on the land and mines were currently open at the time the tenant took possession of the land. In this situation, a tenant is allowed to continue mining on the land, but can only continue to mine in the open mines already in existence and cannot open any new mines on the land.

 

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Permissive waste

In property law, this refers to harm to a piece of property, such as the land falling into disrepair, caused by a tenant's neglect of the property. Examples of permissive neglect include the tenant not doing maintenance on the property, performing ordinary repairs, or paying taxes owed on the land.

 

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Voluntary waste

Also referred to as affirmative waste. In property law, refers to overt and willful acts of destruction that lead to the drop in value of a piece of property by harming the property or depleting natural resources available on the property. As a general rule, tenants of property are not allowed to commit voluntary or affirmative waste to the property on which they reside, meaning they cannot deplete the land of its natural resources.

 

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