Eminent Domain & Land Use


Lewis Rice Wins More Than $17.8 Million in Compensation for Landowners in St. Petersburg, Florida

Lindsay S. C. Brinton and Meghan S. Largent, attorneys from Lewis Rice’s Federal Takings & Rails to Trails Practice Group, recently won $17,859,000 in compensation for three landowners in St. Petersburg, Florida, who brought takings claims against the federal government. The claim resulted from the conversion of an abandoned 0.86-mile railroad easement running south from 5th Avenue North to 9th Street North in downtown St. Petersburg into a public, recreational hiking and biking trail, which crossed or trespassed on the landowners’ property.

On June 10, 2020, the federal Surface Transportation Board authorized CSX Transportation Inc. (CSX)—the then-current owner of the line—to transfer the right-of-way to a subsidiary, Georgetown and High Line Railway Company (GHL), for public recreational trail use pursuant to the National Trails System Act. The three St. Petersburg landowners filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C. against the federal government a year later when the railway corridor was transferred from CSX to GHL on June 17, 2021. They alleged the transfer of the line to GHL for public trail use violated their property rights, namely, to regain full use and control of the land once it was abandoned for railroad purposes.

On May 17, 2024, the United States Court of Federal Claims awarded just compensation to the landowners, which also includes interest from the date of the taking of their property to the date of payment. The interest will likely bring their total payment close to $20 million—the largest trial decision from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in a rail-trail conversion case. Additionally, with a payment of more than $12.9 million, one of the plaintiffs in this case will receive the largest award ever granted to an individual landowner.

“These landowners have vindicated by proving their property belonged to them and was taken in violation of the Fifth Amendment,” Lindsay said. “We are glad they have finally received the just compensation from the federal government that they are entitled to.”

Lewis Rice's federal takings attorneys represent landowners throughout the United States pursuing takings claims against the federal government. One primary focus of the group is representing landowners in what is commonly referred to as rails to trails takings. Attorneys in this group litigate cases in the United States Court of Federal Claims on behalf of those whose property was taken by the federal government pursuant to the National Trails System Act, which authorizes abandoned railroad lines to be converted to public parks. The goal is to obtain compensation from the government for the taking of their land for the public recreational trail. The attorneys in the Federal Takings Practice Group focus on both proving the taking has occurred as well as establishing the value of the property that was taken. Their national work for landowners includes representing landowners coast-to-coast, including 11 states. More information is available online.