Howard v. United States, No. 09-575L

CourtCourt of Federal Claims
Writing for the CourtMARIAN BLANK HORN
PartiesHENRY L. HOWARD, et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES, Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. 09-575L
Decision Date16 August 2012

HENRY L. HOWARD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES, Defendant.

No. 09-575L

United States Court of Federal Claims

Filed: August 16, 2012


Fifth Amendment Takings; Rails-
to-Trails; Valuation; Ind. Code §§ 32-23-11-6, -7, -8.

J. Robert Sears, Baker, Sterchi Cowden & Rice, L.L.C., St. Louis, Mo. for the plaintiffs. With him were Steven M. Wald, Thomas S. Steward, and Elizabeth G. McCully, Baker, Sterchi Cowden & Rice, L.L.C., St. Louis, Mo.

Lary C. Larson, Trial Attorney, Natural Resources Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for the defendant. With him was Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General, Environment and National Resources Division.

OPINION

HORN, J.

FINDINGS OF FACT

The plaintiffs, who claim property interests along a rail line in Cass and Pulaski Counties, in Indiana, filed a complaint in the United States Court of Federal Claims alleging that the government caused uncompensated takings of their property interests pursuant to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The plaintiffs premise their claim on the on the United States Department of Transportation Surface Transportation Board's (STB) issuance of a Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU) pursuant to the National Trails System Act (Trails Act), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1241-51 (2006), which

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authorized the conversion of railroad easement rights-of-way, which run through plaintiffs' properties from rail use to trail use.

The rail line at issue was originally constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s by a number of railroad companies, including the Chicago, St. Louis & Pittsburgh Railroad Company, the Columbus Chicago & Indiana Central Railway Company, and the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway Company. The portion of the rail line rights-of-way subject to the NITU at issue in the above captioned case extends 21 miles between milepost 0.0,1 near Kenneth, Indiana, in Cass County, and milepost 21.0W, near Winamac, Indiana, in Pulaski County. The rail line once formed part of the main line of The Pennsylvania Railroad Company, but was transferred to the Consolidated Rail Corporation in 1976. The Consolidated Rail Corporation sold the rail line to the Winamac Southern Railway Company in 1993. In 1995, the Winamac Southern Railway Company sold the rail line to A & R Line, Inc. (A & R Line), but the Winamac Southern Railway Company continued to operate over the line. In 1997, the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway Corporation (Toledo Railway) leased the line and operated service on the rail line. Also in 1997, Cargill, Inc. acquired the stock in A & R Line in order to ensure service to its grain elevator. Cargill, Inc. eventually sold the A & R Line to RailAmerica, Inc. The last rail service on the line occurred on September 16, 2002. The parties have represented that the rails, ties and switches have been removed.

On July 31, 2003, Toledo Railway filed a Petition for a "Discontinuance Exemption" and A & R Line filed a Petition for an "Abandonment Exemption" with the STB seeking an exemption under 49 U.S.C. § 10502 (2006). The petition stated:

In addition to there being no demand for service over the Line, abandonment of and discontinuance of service over the Line would allow Petitioners to eliminate about $ 80,000 in annual maintenance costs and to sell or reuse $ 525,000 worth of rail, ties and other track materials. Petitioners do not intend to salvage the bridges on the Line. Indeed, Petitioners believe that trail use may be the best alternative use for the Line. Therefore, Petitioners will not incur any cost to remove bridges.

On October 10, 2003, the Indiana Trails Fund, Inc. filed a request for the issuance of a Public Use Condition and Interim Trail Use Condition for the rail line,

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instead of abandonment authorization. The Indiana Trails Fund, Inc. identified itself as "a private/public interest organization interested in the conservation of railroad right-of-ways for both rail reuse and for such non-motor transportation as walking." The Indiana Trails Fund, Inc. offered to assume full responsibility for management, finances, and legal liability arising out of the proposed railbanking2 of the railroad rights-of-way.3 The Indiana Trails Fund, Inc. acknowledged that "use of the right-of-way is subject to possible future reconstruction and reactivation of the right-of-way for rail service." On October 20, 2003, the A & R Line filed a letter with the STB stating that it "agrees to negotiate trail use pursuant to 16 U.S.C. § 1247(d) for the entire 15.9-mile4 rail line between milepost 5.1W, near Kenneth, IN, and milepost 21.0W, near Winamac, IN, the end of the line, in Cass and Pulaski Counties, IN with Indiana Trails Fund, Inc."

On November 18, 2003, the STB issued a "Decision and NITU or Abandonment" granting the exemptions requested by the Toledo Railway and the A & R Line, "subject to trail use, public use, environmental, and standard employee protective conditions as appropriate." A & R Line, Inc. - Abandonment Exemption - in Cass and Pulaski Counties, In., STB Docket Nos. AB-855 (Sub-No. 1X) AB-847 (Sub-No. 2X), 2003 WL 22723217, at *1 (STB Nov. 18, 2003). Subject to certain conditions, the STB also exempted "from the prior approval requirements of 49 U.S.C. 10903 the abandonment by A&R of, and the discontinuance of service by TP&W [Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway Corporation] over, the above-described line." A & R Line, Inc. - Abandonment Exemption - in Cass and Pulaski Counties, In., 2003 WL 22723217, at *7. As part of its decision, the STB stated it would issue a NITU pursuant to the Trails Act for the rail line, and provided A & R Line and the Indiana Trails Fund, Inc. 180 days to negotiate a trail use agreement, failing which, A & R Line could fully abandon the rail line. The STB noted that "[u]se of the right-of-way for trail purposes is subject to restoration for railroad purposes." Id. at *5.

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On November 29, 2005, by quit-claim deed, A & R Line and the Indiana Trails Fund, Inc. entered into an agreement to transfer ownership of the railroad rights-of-way to the Indiana Trails Fund, Inc. The quit-claim deed states:

THIS INDENTURE, made this 29th day of November, 2005
between A&R LINE, INC., an Indiana corporation ("Grantor"), and INDIANA TRAILS FUND, INC., a nonprofit corporation organized under that [sic] laws of Indiana ("Grantee"),
WHEREAS, Grantor has operated a certain line of railroad or rail transportation corridor between Kenneth and Winamac, Indiana, but such operation has recently proven unprofitable, and
WHEREAS, Grantee has requested to use said rail transportation corridor for Interim Trail Usage, under the National Trails Systems Act, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d), and grantor has agreed to a conveyance for such purposes;
NOW THEREFORE, Grantor, QUITCLAIMS to Grantee, for the sum of Ten Dollars ($10.00) and for other good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, Grantor's interest in certain real estate located in Cass County and Pulaski County, Indiana, which is more particularly described as follows (the "Real Estate");
All the certain property of the A&R Line, Inc., together with all of the improvements thereon, being portions of the A&R Lines, Inc.'s lines of railroad known as Line Code 3107, situated in the Counties of Cass and Pulaski, in the State of Indiana, and described below and generally indicated on A&R Line, Inc. Case Plans (as described in Investors Title Insurance Company title policy no. O-A 007729, and also defined as the following parcels by the Recorders' offices of Cass and Pulaski Counties:
* * * *
This Deed is made pursuant to Section 8(d) of the National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. Section 1247(d), and subject to the Trail Use Conditions imposed by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board in STB Docket No. AB-855 (Sub-No. IX). Grantee assumes all financial, managerial and legal responsibility and liability for use of the premises, and agrees to defend, indemnify and hold Grantor harmless therefore. It is agreed and understood that any conservation/recreation use by Grantee shall not impair any future restoration of rail service pursuant to the National Trails System Act.

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On May 29, 2009, the Indiana Trails Fund, Inc. and the Friends of the Panhandle Pathway, Inc., an Indiana non-profit corporation, jointly petitioned the STB to substitute the Friends of the Panhandle Pathway, Inc. for the Indiana Trails Fund, Inc. as the "Holder of Interim Trail Use/Trail Manager/Responsible Party" for the rail line. On June 12, 2009, the STB granted their request by vacating the then existing NITU issued to the Indiana Trails Fund, Inc., and issuing "a replacement NITU authorizing Friends of the Panhandle Pathway, Incorporated as the new interim trail use proponent for the rail line."5

On September 1, 2009, plaintiffs filed suit in the United States Court of Federal Claims alleging that the issuance of the November 18, 2003 NITU effected a compensable taking by the United States, pursuant to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs claim:

Pursuant to Indiana law, when A&R [Line] and the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway Corporation (TP&W) ceased operation of a railroad over the
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