SOUTHERN INDIANA — Attorneys representing plaintiffs in civil federal litigation related to land seizure around a former Southern Indiana rail line say there are hundreds more landowners who could receive benefits.
The lawsuit was filed in March 2018 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims representing landowners in Clark, Floyd, Lawrence, Orange and Washington counties, whose attorneys say they should be compensated by the federal government for land to be used for a rails-trails recreational path currently in negotiations.
The litigation includes just over 62 miles of easement taken in the mid 1800s for the then-named New Albany & Salem Railroad, which stretched from Bedford to New Albany. The railroad was taken over by CSX in the 1980s which in 2017, abandoned the line. In January 2018, CSX filed a notice of intent to negotiate with the Indiana Trails Fund and the City of New Albany for a "possible interim trail use/banking," court records show.
Lindsay Brinton, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the litigation with the firm Lewis Rice, said that under Indiana law, the easements taken from local landowners when the rail line was built more than 150 years ago should revert back to them.
"But the Federal Trails Act allows the railroad to circumvent ... Indiana state law and sell this railroad right of way for a different purpose, namely a trail," she said, adding that under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, owners should be paid for the land.
"Federal law can trump state law but in a case like this, that constitutes a taking. And landowners have a right to be paid for that taking."
She said that currently, there are roughly 300 plaintiffs involved in the litigation, but around 500 have yet to file claims. Depending on the size of each right of way and affects to each owner's entire property, they may be eligible to receive between "a few thousand dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars for each owner," Brinton said.
If someone has a small residential property this might mean a small strip of land, she said. But it have other affects — things like loss of privacy or other issues with a public recreational area adjacent.
"So even if it's just a small area of land taken, it can result in very significant damages because of the negative effect it has on the remaining property," Brinton said.
While landowners have six years from the judge's ruling in the case, which is February 2024, she said it is better to file sooner than later in case laws change.
"We endeavor to make sure each landowner knows they have a Constitutional right to file a claim," Brinton said. "It's certainly up to them whether they wish to do so, but it's the Constitutional right of every landowner in Indiana who's affected by this rails-trails conversion."
To learn more about filing a claim or which land is is affected, visit www.lewisrice.com/lindsay-s-c-brinton/rails-to-trails/.