Lewis Rice Wins Significant Victory for Atlanta Landowners Impacted by the Belt Line Rail-Trail

On February 1, 2021, Judge Zachary N. Somers of the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington D.C. ruled that a group of fourteen Atlanta landowners could proceed with their lawsuit against the federal government. These fourteen neighbors, represented by Meghan S. Largent, Lindsay S. C. Brinton, and Michael Armstrong of Lewis Rice, filed a claim for compensation in the United States Court of Federal Claims for the significant portions of their backyards that have been converted from an abandoned railroad easement to an urban public recreational hiking and biking path. 

Prior to filing their claim for compensation in federal court, these owners were sued by the Atlanta Belt Line to remove various encroachments on the right-of-way, including fences, garages, gardens, and a basketball court. The owners lost their state case and, as a result, were forced to remove these improvements from the land and were prohibited from any further use of their property within the former railroad easement. 

The federal government, represented by the United States Department of Justice, argued that these landowners’ lawsuit seeking compensation under the Fifth Amendment should be dismissed because they were not successful in defending themselves in the lawsuit brought against them by the Belt Line in state court. Judge Somers disagreed, stating that the landowners’ case may proceed and noting, “The proper course, if the government finds this result ‘absurd’ . . . is to work with Congress to change the full faith and credit statute, not to file a motion urging this Court to ignore federal law and binding precedent interpreting that law.”

Largent stated, “These landowners are relieved that they can finally move forward with their claims. The Belt Line may ultimately be a successful urban recreational trail, but it has come at significant cost to these landowners who will be hosting it in their backyards.”

To read the opinion, click under "Resources" below.

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. 

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