Legal Update: Wayne County rails to trails case

AT ISSUE: Landowners claim to have gained legal ownership of an abandoned railroad corridor through their land under the legal theory of adverse possession (exclusive possession of the land for at least 21 years).

FARM BUREAU ACTION: OFBF filed an amicus brief in the successful appeal of the case at the lower level, where the court had ruled, in part, in favor of the landowners. OFBF filed the same at the Ohio Supreme Court.

OUTCOME: In February, the Ohio Supreme Court released a mixed opinion. It ruled in favor of two Farm Bureau families, saying a lower court erred in its ruling that they hadn’t proven they had exclusively possessed portions of the corridor in dispute. But the court rejected the adverse possession claim of a third Farm Bureau family, saying the railroad made it clear to the landowner it was the owner of the property. The court also overturned a precedent that required specific wording in a deed to allow land to revert to the original landowner when the property is no longer used for a specific purpose.

NEXT STEPS: The Ohio Supreme Court ordered Wayne County Common Pleas Court to rehear the adverse possession claims of the two Farm Bureau families. The Ohio Supreme Court was asked to reconsider its denial of adverse possession for the third Farm Bureau family and whether the land reverts to the original landowner if it’s no longer used by the railroad, even if the deed doesn’t spell that out.

UPDATE (May 1, 2018): The Ohio Supreme Court denied reconsideration of the landowners’ claims without further comment. The case will now be returned to the lower court for further proceedings consistent with the opinion issued by the Ohio Supreme Court.

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