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Home / Opinion / 09-2876 & 09-2879 Samuel C. Johnson 1988 Trust v. Bayfield County

09-2876 & 09-2879 Samuel C. Johnson 1988 Trust v. Bayfield County

Property
Railroad easements; abandonment

A judicial finding of abandonment by a railroad is not required for title to vest in the property owner.

“The plaintiffs, being the owners of the land traversed by the railroad’s right of way, acquired the right of way (if there was one—we said earlier there was not), by operation of section 912, a year and a day after the railroad, having obtained the ICC’s permission to abandon its line, pulled up the tracks, completing the abandonment. The County was aware of the abandonment and indeed considered buying the right of way from the railroad at that time. Instead it waited a quarter of a century and then claimed a right to obtain the right of way for nothing. That claim has no basis in section 912. The County can still build snowmobile trails on the plaintiffs’ lots if it wants, but it hasn’t yet acquired the right to do so, because it failed to invoke the right within the statutory deadline of one year. It will have to buy the right from the plaintiffs or take it by exercise of its condemnation powers.”

Reversed.

09-2876 & 09-2879 Samuel C. Johnson 1988 Trust v. Bayfield County

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Crabb, J., Posner, J.

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