Leo Sheep Co. v. United States
440 U.S. 668 (1979)
Under the Union Pacific Act
of 1862, the US partitioned parts of
Wyoming into private sections and public lands in a checkerboard pattern,
where every odd section was private and every even section was public.
The private sections were
given to the railroads in return for building railroads. They were
eventually sold off to various other people.
The Federal government dammed
a river in Wyoming to create the Seminoe Reservoir. It was the only large
body of water around, and so it began to attract boaters and swimmers.
The Federal government came in and built a road across private land owned
by Leo so that people could get to the reservoir.
Leo sued for an injunction,
claiming that the Federal government had no right to build a road over
The Federal government
argued that since you couldn't get to the public lands without going over
the private lands, Congress must have meant that there was an implied
easement when they originally sold
off the land.
The Trial Court found for Leo.
The US appealed.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The Appellate Court found
that when Congress gave the lands to the railroads, it implicitly
reserved an easement to pass over
the odd-numbered sections in order to reach the even-numbered sections
held by the Federal government.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and found for Leo.
The US Supreme Court found
that the Federal government does not have an implied easement to build a road across private lands.
The Court found that there
is a common-law doctrine of easement by necessity, but since the Union Pacific Act
didn't mention easements, then
Congress must not have wanted there to be an easement.
The Court noted that
(unlike a private person), the government has the ability to take land
via eminent domain, and if they
wanted a road there, they could just take it with that power. There was
no need to have an easement by necessity.
Of course, eminent
domain requires the government to
pay for the land. Why should they have to pay when a private
individual would be able to get the access for free?
The Court found that when
the US originally gave the lands to the railroads, they included a number
of conditions. However, they did not include any easements in the set of
conditions. Therefore Congress must not have wanted there to be an