Skip to Content

News & Resources

Are finders keepers and losers weepers in property law? p4

10/13/2014 | Real Estate Blog

We are back to discussing easements and one particular U.S. Supreme Court case (Brandt v. U.S.) that challenged the government’s right to giveth and then taketh away the right to a parcel of land. The plaintiffs were landowners who believed they were due compensation (under eminent domain) for abandoned railway corridors that the federal government turned into recreational trails.

The government had argued that the railroad right-of-way was not really an easement. It was more of a loan from the government. When the government sold the surrounding land subject to the right-of-way, it didn’t really mean that the right-of-way would merge with the surrounding land, that it would transfer back to the purchaser when the right-of-way was no longer necessary. It was a different arrangement altogether.

The appellant property owner argued that an easement is an easement and backed up the argument with other Supreme Court cases. The federal government cannot change its mind on a whim, giving a landowner a duck only to say later that it was a goose. The appellant also pointed out that the government backed up its position with arguments unsuccessfully used against it in past cases — the government convinced the Supreme Court in one case that an easement is an easement and here tried to convince the court otherwise by, in part, adopting that case’s losing argument.

In the end, the Supreme Court agreed with the appellant.

If you remember the Woodstock version of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” you will recall that he goes into great detail about a run-in with the law. He finishes the story, says, “But that’s not what I came to tell ya about,” and launches into another story.

When we launched this discussion in our Sept. 19 post, we didn’t actually intend to write about Brandt. We really wanted to write about a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case about mineral rights.

Which we will get to in our next post.

Source: Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. U.S., 134 S.Ct. 1257 (U.S.,2014) via Westlaw