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Wyoming Man Settles Legal Fees Claim After SCOTUS Victory

May 16, 2017 | by William Perry Pendley

May 16, 2017 – DENVER, CO.  A Wyoming man who won a huge victory before the Supreme Court of the United States by reversing rulings of a Wyoming federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in favor of the U.S. Forest Service in a dispute over whether his land belongs to the United States and later got his land back today settled his claim for attorneys’ fees and expenses with the agency.  Marvin Brandt of Fox Park claims title to a railroad right-of-way that bisects his land, was used by a railroad from 1904 to 1995, and was abandoned; ties and tracks were removed by 2000.  In 2009, a Wyoming federal district court ruled the United States kept a reversionary interest in the right-of-way that could be used for a trail and not an easement in which the United States has no interest.  In 2012 the Tenth Circuit agreed.  In 2014, by 8-1, the Supreme Court struck down both rulings:  “[N]othing in the text of the 1875 Act supports [the federal government’s] improbable (and self-serving) reading [of the law].”  After Mr. Brandt’s victory before the Supreme Court and the return of his land, he sought attorneys’ fees and expenses pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which a Wyoming federal district court denied prompting Mr. Brandt’s appeal, which was settled today. 

“We are pleased to reach this agreement with federal attorneys representing the Forest Service for the payment of $50,000 in full satisfaction of Mr. Brandt’s claims for attorneys’ fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act in return for Mr. Brandt dismissing the appeal and to be able to put this case, which began in 2006, to a highly successful end,” said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represents Mr. Brandt.

On February 25, 1904, pursuant to the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act, the Laramie, Hahns Peak and Pacific Railroad Company filed with the U.S. Department of the Interior and, thus, in 1908, acquired a 200-foot-wide, 66-mile-long right-of-way from Laramie, Wyoming, to the Colorado State line.  The railroad operated until September 1995, and, in May 1996, the railroad’s owner filed a Notice of Intent to Abandon Rail Service from near Laramie, Wyoming, to the Colorado State line.  The track and ties were removed in 1999 and 2000 and service terminated at the end of 2003.

The land along the railroad right-of-way was reserved from the public domain by presidential proclamation and became part of the Medicine Bow National Forest.  The private land areas of Albany, Fox Park, and Mountain Home along the right-of-way were acquired after creation of the railroad and are subject to it.  At Albany, private lots were platted over the right-of-way and the land conveyed subject to the railroad.  Abandonment of the railroad right-of-way thus creates a title conflict between these ownerships and the effects of the 1988 Rails-to-Trails Act.  Mr. Brandt owns 83 acres of private land patented to him on February 18, 1976, as part of an exchange with the Forest Service.  In April 2005, the Forest Service issued a notice of its plans to convert the railway into a public trail.  On July 14, 2006, the United States sued Mr. Brandt and others.  The court ruled on March 2, 2009.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, founded in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and economic freedom.  Its offices are in the Denver, Colorado, metropolitan area.

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