What's the case called?
Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al. (The Petitioner), v.
United States (The Respondent).
Where can I get the legal particulars?
keeps a great record with all the nuts and bolts on each case the Supreme Court
The docket number for the case is 12-1173.
What's the case about?
The case is about whether public access will be allowed
along a corridor of federally-owned land that was once granted by the United
States to a railroad company, and that now passes across private property.
The corridor in this case passes through a parcel of land
surrounded by Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming that the U.S. Forest
Service patented to the Brandt family in 1976. Crossing near the boundary of that parcel is a
200-foot wide corridor of federally-owned land that had been granted to the
Laramie, Hahn's Peak and Pacific Railway company in 1908, for the purpose of
constructing a railroad.
These rights-of-way were granted by the federal government
to railroad companies in the 19th and early 20th
centuries, to encourage the expansion of the nation's railroad systems. The
federal government saw the enormous benefit of these rights of way to the
American people as a whole, and wanted to ensure these vital, publicly financed
transportation corridors remained public assets and served the interests of the
nation. Congress accomplished this by requiring that these corridors remain the
property of the American people should the railroad ever abandon or forfeit
Railroad activity along the corridor ceased in the 1970s. The
U.S. Forest Service and local supporters converted most of that disused
corridor into the Medicine Bow Rail Trail, which opened in 2007 and has become
one of the most popular rail-trails in America.
This 21-mile rail-trail has but one disconnection point -
the Brandt property. The United States is seeking to establish title over the
right-of-way across the Brandt property for the purpose of completing the
Medicine Bow Rail Trail and enabling public access to public land. The United
States claim to the corridor is based on the established precedent that it had
a reversionary interest in the right-of-way. The Brandts disagreed, and so
disputed the United States effort to maintain the corridor as a publically
Didn't I read that this case had already been ruled upon?
Yes. The U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming
and, later, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, found that the United
States did have a reversionary interest in the corridor - that this
federally-held right-of-way could be made available as rail-trail - and
rejected the Brandt's claim of ownership. However, unsatisfied with these
rulings, and supported by well-financed interests, the Brandts continue to
appeal. In October 2013, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Brandt's third
What's the central issue in all this?
The issue in question before the Supreme Court is whether
the United States retains a reversionary interest in rights-of-way created by
the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after the cessation of rail
service. The case affects more than a century of federal laws and policies
protecting the public's interest in railroad corridors created through public
lands - and could have lasting impacts on the future of rail-trails across the
What is the General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875?
The General Railroad Right of Way Act of March 3, 1875 (1875
Act) granted railroad companies a 100 foot right-of-way (ROW) on public land on
either side of a railroad line subject to certain terms and conditions.
Thousands of miles of 1875 Act rights-of-way are estimated to exist on public
land, mostly in the western United States.
What is Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's role in the case?
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was invited to submit an
"amicus brief" to the Supreme Court.
An amicus brief, also known as a "friend of the court"
brief, is filed by a party who is neither the Petitioner nor the Respondent,
but is known by the court to be able to offer information that bears on the
case. This may take the form of legal opinion, testimony or learned treatise,
and aims to relate the possibly broad legal effects of a court decision.
In this amicus brief we support the position of the U.S.
Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed with the established legal
precedent that says the United States does retain a reversionary interest in
rights-of-way created by the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875, after
railroad activity has ceased on the corridor.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's amicus brief establishes the great importance of federally granted rights-of-way in providing publicly
accessible trails for recreation and transportation, and the threat that
overturning established federal law poses to the public's interest in these
The amicus brief was filed by RTC General Counsel Andrea
Ferster, assisted by pro bono counsel.
Who are the Petitioners?
The Mountain States Legal Foundation is representing the
Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust. The Mountain States Legal Foundation is a
conservative public interest law firm with a history of seeking to overturn
protections on public lands and the environment in the interests of private
ownership and industry. The Mountain States Legal Foundation has recently filed
lawsuits seeking to remove protections for endangered species and to allow
greater pollution by industry of America's streams and waterways.
A number of other well-funded organizations are supporting
the Mountain States Legal Foundation, including the Cato Institute. The Cato
Institute has also supported law suits that seek to reduce protections on
Who is the Respondent?
The Respondent in this case is the United States Department
of Justice, represented by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr.
The cause of protecting public ownership of America's public
lands is supported in this case by a number of trails and outdoor recreation
nonprofits, including Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. In addition to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's amicus brief, briefs
will also be submitted supporting rail-trails by the State and Local Legal
Center and the Washington State Attorney General.
What might this mean for rail-trails?
A win before the Supreme Court would reaffirm the
government's right under federal statutes to secure railroad corridors granted
by the United States through federal lands for continued public use.
A loss would almost certainly block plans for the completion
of the Medicine Bow Rail Trail, and would also threaten existing and future
rail-trails and public highways across America that utilize federally granted
rights-of-way. The erosion of this protection of public land may also threaten
existing rail-trails that already occupy federally-granted rights-of-way.
What other rail-trails occupy federally-granted
There are hundreds of these corridors across the country,
many of which have been converted into publically accessible trails. Some of
the better-known rail-trails that occupy federally-granted rights-of-way
include the George S. Mickelson Trail in South Dakota, the Foothills Trail and
the John Wayne Pioneer trails in Washington, the Weiser River Trail in Idaho
and the Rio Grande Trail in Colorado.
What is the timeline of the case?
Amicus briefs from both sides are due in December. Oral
argument is expected in January 2014, with a decision expected later that year,
Can I sit in the courtroom to observe the oral arguments?
All oral arguments are open to the public, but seating is
limited and on a first-come, first-seated basis. To confirm the date of oral
arguments in this case, and for more information on visiting the Supreme Court,
got to www.supremecourt.gov/visiting/
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
Washington, DC 20037