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Hash v. United States

Citation: 35 ELR 20072
No. No. 03-1395, (Fed. Cir., 04/04/2005)

The Fifth Circuit, in a class action suit, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings a lower court decision dismissing landowners' Fifth Amendment takings claims arising from the conversion of a railroad right-of-way to a recreational trail traversing their land. The landowners are successors to homesteaders who were granted land patents pursuant to the Homestead Act of 1862; the ownership rights are at issue in this case. Some of the original owners were granted their land after the railroad had acquired its right-of-way. These landowners owned the land in fee subject to the railway easement. When the railway abandoned its right-of-way, they were disencumbered of the railway easement. Thus, when their land was converted to a public trail, their property interests were taken for public use and they are entitled to just compensation. Another group of original owners were granted their land before the railroad obtained its right-of-way. These segments were conveyed by the landowners to the railroad on a variety of terms and conditions. The lower court's decision as to whether these terms and conditions conveyed an easement or a fee interest was vacated and remanded in light of new Idaho case law. The last category of landowners relates to land for which no document of transfer from the homesteader to the railway could be found, but where the homesteader preceded the railway on the land. For these lands, the judgment that the railroad acquired fee title to the underlying lands was reversed. The burden of establishing compliance with the law of adverse possession was not met by "clear and satisfactory evidence."