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Toews v. United States

ELR Citation: 34 ELR 20052
Nos. No. 03-5129, (Fed. Cir., 07/21/2004)

The Federal Circuit affirmed a lower court decision that a taking occurred when a property owner's interest in an unused railroad easement was converted to a public recreation trail under the Rails-to-Trails Act without just compensation. Under the shifting use rule as applied in California, a public transportation easement defined as one for railroad purposes is not stretchable into an easement for a recreational trail. Thus, the easement was converted into a new and different easement. And although the government has the legal power and is thus free to impose such new uses upon the fee interests held by the property owner, the private property interests taken are not free; the government must pay the just compensation mandated by the Constitution. A possible light rail system project is too speculative to deny protection of this right. The court did not address whether the railroad easement was abandoned, but did hold that the case was properly brought in federal court since the state court thoroughly explained its position on shifting use in transportation easements.