Argument Preview

Another case that attracted an amicus brief and is being argued this month at the Federal Circuit is Albright v. United States, a consolidated takings case. In it, owners of land in Oregon assert that the United States Surface Transportation Board violated the Takings Clause by converting a railway easement to a recreational trail. As explained by the government, however, the Court of Federal Claims “determined that the [relevant] deeds conveyed fee simple title from Plaintiffs’ predecessors-in-interest to the railroads, such that Plaintiffs have no compensable property interest on which to base takings claims.” One of the property owners explains that the issue on appeal is “[w]hether the CFC correctly applied the law of the state of Oregon to determine whether certain conveyances from the early 1900s to a railroad conveyed the fee estate in the land or a perpetual easement for railroad purposes.” This is our argument preview.

The property owners argue in their three opening briefs (Opening Brief for BellissarioOpening Brief for Abrahamson, and Opening Brief for Arent Fox) that, in this case, “the CFC has turned Oregon case law on its head” by finding that “absent clear language in the deed indicating an easement, the presumption was that the railroad acquired the fee estate.” They allege the CFC erroneously found “that deeds that granted ‘strips of land across’ or ‘strips of land through’ the grantor’s land conveyed the fee estate in the land.”

In its response brief, the government asserts that, “[u]nder Oregon law, the parties’ intent is determinative of the interest conveyed, and it is presumed that the parties intended to convey the entire estate unless the intent to pass a lesser estate is expressly stated or necessarily implied.” The government contends that “all of the deeds conveyed fee simple title because they do not expressly state the intent to convey anything less.”

In their three reply briefs (Reply Brief for BellisarioReply Brief for AbrahamsonReply Brief for Arent Fox), the property owners again assert that under Oregon law there is not a “presumption of a fee.” Further, they again argue that the conveyances at issue in this case “all conveyed an easement to the railroad.”

As mentioned above, this case attracted an amicus brief. Filed by the National Association of Reversionary Property Owners, the brief supports the appellants. It contends that the CFC “incorrectly applied Oregon law when it held that the railroad was granted title to the fee estate.” 

Oral argument will be heard in this case on Tuesday, September 1. We will keep track of this case and report on any developments.