BRANT REVOCABLE TRUST v. UNITED STATES
In 1908, the United States granted land, known as a right-of-way (ROW) to the Hahn’s Peak and Pacific Railway Company to build a 66-mile railway from Laramie, Wyoming to Colorado. In 1976, the United States granted Fox Park, Wyoming⎯land that surrounds the ROW⎯to Melvin and Lula Brant. In 1986, a new company, the Wyoming and Colorado Railway Company, acquired the ROW. The company operated the ROW until it officially abandoned the land in 2003. Following the abandonment, the United States sued the Brant Revocable Trust and other potential property owners under 42 USC 912, a statute governing the disposition of abandoned or forfeited railroad grants. The government argued that this statute reverts abandoned ROWs back to the federal government’s exclusive possession. The United States sought a judicial order of abandonment and exclusive possession of the ROW. The Brant Revocable Trust and property owners filed a countersuit seeking full possession of the ROW, insofar as it cut through their land. They argued that the statute only granted an easement to the United States, not full possession. The district court granted the interest in the ROW to the United States and the US. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed.
Did the United States retain an implied ownership interest in the ROW property after the underlying lands were granted into private ownership?