A railroad had an easement to run some tracks over a parcel of land in
Vermont. The railroad shut down in 1970 and in 1975 removed the tracks,
but the railroad never applied for an abandonment order.
The railroad had received a
legal easement when they originally
built the tracks.
In order for the railroad to
officially abandon the property, they had to file with the Interstate
Commerce Commission, (aka an abandonment order), which they did not do.
Technically, the bill of
sale said that the railroad owned the land in fee simple.
Fee simple means that the railroad completely owned the
land, it wasn't an easement.
Preseault bought the property,
knowing that there was an easement
allowing the railroad to run trains through the property.
Preseault probably figured
that since the railroad had removed the tracks, they had abandoned their easement.
Years later, the railroad
entered into an agreement with Vermont under the Rails-to-Trails Act, where the easement would be
transferred to the State who would maintain the land as a public trail.
Vermont built a public trail
with joggers and bikers running across Preseault's land.
Preseault sued, claiming the Rails-to-Trails
Act was unconstitutional.
The US Supreme Court ruled
that the Act was constitutional.
Preseault then sued the
Federal Government, claiming that they took Preseault's property when they
authorized the conversion of the easement to a public trail.
Preseault argued that he was
never paid for allowing bikers and joggers to use his property, so it
amounted to an illegal taking.
The Appellate Court found that
Presault's property could not be used for a public trail.
The Appellate Court found
that, even though the bill of sale said that the railroad had acquired
the land in fee simple, they did
not own it, they only had an easement.
The Court found that the
railroad had only acquired easements
for the use of the railroad, not for public trails.
Typically an easement is granted for a specific purpose, in this
case, railroads and commerce. In order to remain viable, the easement would have to be used the same way. The
public trail was for recreation purposes, not to ship freight, so it
wasn't the same as the original purpose..
The Court found that the
easement ended at the time the railroad pulled up its tracks in 1975, and
transfer to the State and subsequently the city was unauthorized under
the 5th Amendment without just
Easements are lost when there is a clear intent to
abandon. Even though the railroad never formally filed an abandonment
order, for all practical purposes
they abandoned the easement.
Typically, easements for
railroads do not specify a termination date. The usual way in which an easement ends is by abandonment, which causes the easement to be extinguished as a matter of law.
Vermont law recognizes not
only the ceasing of the use of the property, but an actual
manifestation of intent to cease using the property for such a purpose.