Our Experience

Our firm’s Rails-to-Trails team has nearly 20 years of experience asserting property rights of landowners in litigation across the country involving land adjacent to an active railroad. In addition to our Rails-to-Trails team members, our bench is deep with seasoned lawyers who possess decades of experience in land-related and easement issues that can be drawn upon when warranted. The bottom line is, we ensure each and every one of our clients receive the attention and full and fair compensation that is due.

Our attorneys bring Rails-to-Trails cases against the federal government in the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., pursuant to the "Just Compensation" Clause of the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The purpose of these lawsuits is to obtain money for landowners from the federal government, as compensation for land that was taken by the federal government. Specifically, those who own land adjoining a railroad that the federal government has authorized be converted to a trail, often have a claim for just compensation for the taking of their land. Our job is to enforce our clients’ Constitutional rights.

American history has established the importance of land ownership, including the right to have private property that is not free for public use.  Therefore, when the public is allowed to use private land, we should all share in the cost rather than require that a landowner “donate” the land.  The cases we file seek only what is owed by virtue of the United States Constitution, and do not interfere with plans for a trail in any way.  The only defendant is the United States, no local government or party is involved as a defendant, although we do help local governments recover money due to them if they are also an abutting property owner.  We represent clients who like the trail and those who wish it were not there. Regardless of a property owner’s position on the trail, all property owners must make a claim in Court in order to receive any compensation.  We are only paid if our clients are paid and the United States pays all or a portion of any attorneys’ fees due.

We monitor Rails-to-Trails conversions in every state, which has led to our being involved in over 50 cases involving land in more than 15 states across the nation. Our cases often involve oral arguments in Washington, D.C., but trials generally occur in the locale where the land is located.

We have been very successful in proving landowners’ claims across the country, including in Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Washington, Tennessee, California, Michigan, New York, Arkansas, South Carolina, and other states, resulting in awards from hundreds of thousands of dollars to several millions of dollars.

We are honored to have been entrusted by hundreds of property owners to represent them in the below list of pending cases: 

  • Anderson v. United States (Texas)
  • Andrews v. United States (North Carolina)
  • Bartusek v. United States (Iowa)
  • Beaver v. United States (Indiana)
  • Brown v. United States (North Carolina)
  • Burnett v. United States (Missouri)
  • Chickering v. United States (Iowa)
  • Harley-White v. United States (Maine)
  • Herron Development v. United States (Montana)
  • Lewis v. United States (Maine)
  • Martin v. United States (Alabama)
  • Mills v. United States (Florida)
  • Oak Hill Land Co. (Mississippi)
  • Tierney v. United States (Iowa)
  • Tomberlin v. United States (Alabama)
  • Wagner v. United States (Michigan)
  • Zinser v. United States (Indiana)

For more information about our Rails-to-Trails practice or to discuss a pending or prospective Rails-to-Trails claim, contact J. Robert Sears at 314.345.5000 or call our property rights hotline at 888.235.6193.


11.28.2018 | J. Robert Sears Serves on Panel at Court of Federal Claims Judicial Conference

Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice attorney J. Robert Sears served as a panelist for the program “Rails to Trails: The Pitfalls When Litigating Liability and Damages Together or Separately – Using a Fee Shifting Statute, such as Rails to Trails” at the Court of Federal Claims 29th Judicial Conference held at the National Courts Building in Washington, DC on November 14, 2018.

Utilizing Rails to Trails litigation as a study for the benefits and risks of litigating cases as a whole or in segments, using motion practice, discovery, trial, post-trial activity, and/or settlement techniques to resolve all or part of a case, the panel examined the sometimes difficult and contentious issues that arise in litigation between private parties and the United States.

Sears joined Senior Judge Eric G. Bruggink and James D. Gette of the Department of Justice on the panel, which was moderated by Senior Judge Marian Blank Horn. A recording of the panel presentation can be found here.


02.12.2019 | Trails Group Resolves Numerous Cases Across the Country

With approximately 45 cases, the Trails Group has represented thousands of landowners across the country and obtained liability rulings leading to numerous settlements in all cases resolved thus far.  When a railroad only has an easement for railroad purposes and transfers the right-of-way to a trail user under the federal Trails Act, the conversion of that right-of-way to a trail for public use is a possible taking of property that may require compensation under the United States Constitution. 

The Trails Group has resolved cases in Beaufort County, SC for over $30 million dollars, in Worcester, MA for almost $2.5 million, in Ellis County, TX for nearly $500,000, in Greenville, SC for nearly $500,000, in Warren County, MS for nearly $300,000, in Franklin County, IA for over $350,000, in Hamilton and Merrick Counties, NE for over $800,000, and in Cherry, Dawes and Sheridan Counties, NE for nearly $2 million.

Rails to Trails

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