Lawson v. State, No. 51953-6

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtDOLLIVER; PEARSON; UTTER
Citation730 P.2d 1308,107 Wn.2d 444
Docket NumberNo. 51953-6
Decision Date24 December 1986
PartiesWilbur H. LAWSON, Jr., et ux., et al., and Donald M. Wright, et ux., Appellants, v. The STATE of Washington, King County, King County Parks and Recreation Department, City of Bothell, and Burlington Northern Railroad Company, Respondents.

Page 444

107 Wn.2d 444
730 P.2d 1308
Wilbur H. LAWSON, Jr., et ux., et al., and Donald M. Wright,
et ux., Appellants,
v.
The STATE of Washington, King County, King County Parks and
Recreation Department, City of Bothell, and
Burlington Northern Railroad Company, Respondents.
No. 51953-6.
Supreme Court of Washington,
En Banc.
Dec. 24, 1986.

Page 445

[730 P.2d 1309] Morris & Rodgers, S. Michael Rodgers, Daryl A. Deutsch, Bellevue, for appellants.

Ken Eikenberry, Atty. Gen., Shirley W. Battan, Asst. Atty. Gen., Olympia, for respondent State.

Page 446

Norm Maleng, King County Prosecutor, Fred A. Kaseburg, Deputy King County Prosecutor, Seattle, for respondent King County.

DOLLIVER, Chief Justice.

In these consolidated actions, the plaintiffs are owners of property abutting or bisected by railroad rights of way. Among other things, plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of RCW 64.04.180 and RCW 64.04.190. These statutes authorize a change in the use of a railroad right of way to a public nonrailroad use without compensation to holders of reversionary interests in the right of way.

Plaintiffs Donald M. and Janet Sue Wright own property bisected by a right of way which runs along the east side of Lake Sammamish in King County. Burlington [730 P.2d 1310] Northern Railroad Company has operated a railroad over this right of way. The remaining plaintiffs own land abutting a second right of way in King County, which is 4.8 miles long and lies between Kenmore and Woodinville. Burlington Northern also operated a railroad over this right of way, but in December 1984, it petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to discontinue rail service over this right of way.

In a letter dated January 30, 1985, King County requested the ICC to impose a public use condition upon abandonment of the 4.8-mile long right of way, pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 10906 and 49 C.F.R. § 1152.28. King County sought a finding that the right of way is suitable for "other public purposes" and for "public use." King County intends to use a portion of this right of way as a recreational hiking and bicycle trail linking the existing Burke-Gilman and Sammamish River trails.

In June 1985, the ICC authorized Burlington Northern to abandon rail service over the Kenmore-Woodinville right of way, and imposed a 120-day right of way "public use" condition. Under this condition, the right of way could not be disposed of during 120 days after the ICC order unless it was first offered for sale for public purposes on reasonable terms.

In the meantime, the Wrights filed this action against the

Page 447

State of Washington, King County, the King County Parks and Recreation Department, and Burlington Northern. They sought a declaratory judgment holding RCW 64.04.180 and RCW 64.04.190 unconstitutional on the ground that they authorize unlawful takings without just compensation. Const. art. 1, § 16. A second, similar complaint was filed against the same parties, plus the City of Bothell, by a number of owners of property abutting the right of way between Kenmore and Woodinville. Both complaints contain allegations that plaintiffs own the reversionary interests in the land underlying the rights of way, and allegations that, in the original conveyances to Burlington Northern's predecessor in interest, only easements were granted. The plaintiffs further alleged existence of the statutes depresses their land values, and the Wrights contended that the statutes create a cloud upon their title.

Following consolidation of the two cases for trial, King County moved under CR 12(b)(6) for dismissal of the complaints for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On July 16, 1985, the trial court granted this motion. The court concluded: a right of way granted to a railroad is a perpetual public easement; abandonment of a railroad right of way does not occur upon a change in use from railroad purposes to some other form of public transportation, and thus a change in use from "rails to trails" does not constitute abandonment of the right of way; King County can acquire a railroad right of way and use it for nonrailroad public transportation purposes without compensating any reversionary interest holders; and RCW 64.04.180 and RCW 64.04.190 are constitutional. We accepted direct review, and now reverse.

As a preliminary matter, we grant King County's motion to submit additional evidence on review. This evidence is King County's purchase from Burlington Northern, via quitclaim deed, of the Kenmore-Woodinville right of way. We have applied the criteria of RAP 9.11, and find the proffered evidence meets the requirements of the rule. See Washington Fed'n of State Employees v. State, 99 Wash.2d

Page 448

878, 665 P.2d 1337 (1983). The evidence is important to our disposition of these actions.

King County has also moved to strike all or portions of plaintiffs' brief. The County has included this motion in its brief. A party may include in a brief only a motion which, if granted, would preclude hearing the case on the merits. RAP 10.4(d). Under the facts here, striking the particular statements in plaintiffs' brief which the County challenges would not preclude hearing this case on the merits. Therefore, we decline to address the motion.

Turning to the issues raised in this appeal, we emphasize at the outset that the [730 P.2d 1311] trial court dismissed this case on King County's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. CR 12(b)(6). For purposes of a CR 12(b)(6) motion, the plaintiffs' factual allegations are presumed to be true. Bowman v. John Doe, 104 Wash.2d 181, 183, 704 P.2d 140 (1985). An action may be dismissed under CR 12(b)(6) only if " 'it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts, consistent with the complaint, which would entitle the plaintiff to relief.' " Bowman, at 183, 704 P.2d 140 (quoting Orwick v. Seattle, 103 Wash.2d 249, 254, 692 P.2d 793 (1984); Corrigal v. Ball & Dodd Funeral Home, Inc., 89 Wash.2d 959, 961, 577 P.2d 580 (1978)). Plaintiffs have alleged Burlington Northern's predecessor in interest acquired easements for railroad purposes only, and these easements will revert to plaintiffs upon abandonment of the rights of way by Burlington Northern.

We acknowledge that ordinarily the construction of right of way deeds is a mixed question of fact and law. Roeder Co. v. Burlington Northern, Inc., 105 Wash.2d 567, 571-72, 716 P.2d 855 (1986). Ascertaining the parties' intent is a factual question, and is determined from the entire document. Roeder Co., at 572, 716 P.2d 855. Due to the nature of its decision, the trial court reached no conclusion as to the nature of plaintiffs' interests. On the limited record provided us for purposes of reviewing the trial court's decision to grant the CR 12(b)(6) motion, we also do not determine the nature of

Page 449

plaintiffs' interests. As we explain here, if plaintiffs can prove their allegations, they would be entitled to the relief they seek. The trial court erred in granting King County's motion to dismiss.

We first address the issues raised in light of common law principles. Defendants argue that under Washington law a railroad is a perpetual public easement. They contend that a railroad right of way easement does not terminate upon a change from one transportation use to another transportation or recreation use, or any other consistent public use. We disagree.

It is true railroad companies were created on the theory that they will provide a public benefit. Pursuant to statute, the State has conferred upon them special and extraordinary privileges. In return, the railroads must hold their property in trust for the public use. Puget Sound Elec. Ry. v. Railroad Comm'n, 65 Wash. 75, 83-84, 117 P. 739 (1911). A railroad is a public highway, created for public purposes. Puget Sound Elec. Ry., at 84, 117 P. 739.

But these considerations do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that a railroad right of way is a perpetual public easement. To the contrary, this court has frequently recognized that railroad rights of way revert to reversionary interest holders when a railroad company abandons a line. See, e.g., Roeder Co. v. Burlington Northern, Inc., 105 Wash.2d 567, 716 P.2d 855 (1986); Zobrist v. Culp, 95 Wash.2d 556, 627 P.2d 1308 (1981); Morsbach v. Thurston Cy., 152 Wash. 562, 278 P. 686 (1929). These cases demonstrate that, under Washington law, when an easement is granted to a railroad through a private conveyance, the easement is not a "perpetual public easement." Instead, the particular deeds conveying the right of way must be interpreted to determine the scope and duration of the easement granted. See Swan v. O'Leary, 37 Wash.2d 533, 225 P.2d 199 (1950). This is true even though, as this court has observed, a railroad easement has a peculiar nature as "a very substantial thing ... more than a mere right of passage ... more than an easement." Morsbach v. Thurston Cy., supra 152 Wash. at

Page 450

569, 278 P. 686.

At common law, where a deed is construed to convey a right of way for railroad purposes only, upon abandonment by the railroad of the right of way the land over which the right of way passes reverts to the reversionary interest holder free of the easement. See generally Roeder Co. v. Burlington Northern, Inc., 105 Wash.2d at 571, 716 P.2d 855; Swan v. O'Leary, supra; Morsbach v. Thurston Cy., supra. [730 P.2d 1312] In addition to outright abandonment of a right of way, there may be a change in use of the right of way which is inconsistent with the purpose for which the right of way was granted. Where the particular use of an easement for the purpose for which it was established ceases, the land is discharged of the burden of the easement and right to possession reverts to the original land owner or to that landowner's successor in interest. Roeder Co. v. Burlington Northern, Inc., 105...

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90 practice notes
  • Preseault v. U.S., Nos. 93-5067
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
    • November 5, 1996
    ...whether conversion to a nature trail falls within the scope of an original railroad easement have held that it does not. Lawson v. State, 730 P.2d 1308 (Wash. 1986) (in banc), is an example of a case practically on all fours with the case before us. The Burlington Northern Railroad Company ......
  • Preseault v. Interstate Commerce Commission, No. 88-1076
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 21, 1990
    ...rights have not matured), cert. denied, 463 U.S. 1209, 103 S.Ct. 3540, 77 L.Ed.2d 1390 (1983), with Lawson v. State, 107 Wash.2d 444, 730 P.2d 1308 (1986) (change in use would give effect to reversionary interests); McKinley v. Waterloo R. Co., 368 N.W.2d 131, 133-136 (Iowa 1985) (lack of r......
  • Brown v. State, Nos. 62217-5
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • November 20, 1996
    ...556, 627 P.2d 1308 (1981); Roeder Co. v. Burlington N., Inc., 105 Wash.2d 567, 716 P.2d 855 (1986); Lawson v. State, 107 Wash.2d 444, 730 P.2d 1308 (1986); see also, King County v. Squire Inv. Co., 59 Wash.App. 888, 801 P.2d 1022 (1990), review denied, 116 Wash.2d 1021, 811 P.2d 219 5 Cabel......
  • Wash. State Farm Bureau Feder. v. Gregoire, No. 78637-2.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • November 21, 2007
    ...enact a retrospective[25] statute, unless the statute contravenes some constitutional inhibition." Lawson v. State, 107 Wash.2d 444, 454, 730 P.2d 1308 (1986). Barring a constitutional limitation, an amendment may operate retroactively if "`the legislature so intended'" or "`it is "curative......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
90 cases
  • Preseault v. U.S., Nos. 93-5067
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
    • November 5, 1996
    ...whether conversion to a nature trail falls within the scope of an original railroad easement have held that it does not. Lawson v. State, 730 P.2d 1308 (Wash. 1986) (in banc), is an example of a case practically on all fours with the case before us. The Burlington Northern Railroad Company ......
  • Preseault v. Interstate Commerce Commission, No. 88-1076
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 21, 1990
    ...rights have not matured), cert. denied, 463 U.S. 1209, 103 S.Ct. 3540, 77 L.Ed.2d 1390 (1983), with Lawson v. State, 107 Wash.2d 444, 730 P.2d 1308 (1986) (change in use would give effect to reversionary interests); McKinley v. Waterloo R. Co., 368 N.W.2d 131, 133-136 (Iowa 1985) (lack of r......
  • Brown v. State, Nos. 62217-5
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • November 20, 1996
    ...556, 627 P.2d 1308 (1981); Roeder Co. v. Burlington N., Inc., 105 Wash.2d 567, 716 P.2d 855 (1986); Lawson v. State, 107 Wash.2d 444, 730 P.2d 1308 (1986); see also, King County v. Squire Inv. Co., 59 Wash.App. 888, 801 P.2d 1022 (1990), review denied, 116 Wash.2d 1021, 811 P.2d 219 5 Cabel......
  • Wash. State Farm Bureau Feder. v. Gregoire, No. 78637-2.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • November 21, 2007
    ...enact a retrospective[25] statute, unless the statute contravenes some constitutional inhibition." Lawson v. State, 107 Wash.2d 444, 454, 730 P.2d 1308 (1986). Barring a constitutional limitation, an amendment may operate retroactively if "`the legislature so intended'" or "`it is "curative......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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