A class action lawsuit on the federal level targets the establishment of the Albany County Rail Trail. Neighboring landowners claim the purchase of an easement by the county robbed them of their property rights, and they're seeking compensation from the federal government.
ALBANY COUNTY A group of property owners neighboring the Albany County Rail Trail are suing the federal government over the recreational corridor.
A lawsuit filed by several homeowners in 2009 was recently upgraded to a class action lawsuit. Some 300 neighbors of the more than 9-mile Rail Trail corridor were mailed notices offering them the opportunity to join the lawsuit, and about 100 of them are signed up as of this report.
The original complaint bore the name of 12 individuals and one company. About one month later, an amended complaint was filed with dozens of additional plaintiffs. After months of proceedings, Judge Lawrence Block of the United States Court of Federal Claims granted the case class action status in early March of this year, clearing the way for other potential plaintiffs to be notified. The court’s schedule calls for a final class member list to be submitted later this year, with an August deadline for potential plaintiffs to sign up.
The law firm of Baker Sterchi Cowden and Rice in St. Louis, Mo. has also established a toll-free hotline. Class members must have owned eligible property prior to July 8, 2003.
The lawsuit hinges on the federal Trails Act, part of which deals with the repurposing of unused railway beds into recreational resources. The act allows for the federal government to grant easements and rights-of-way in some cases.
Attorney Steve Wald, who specializes in such matters and is representing the class, said the lawsuit does not threaten the trail itself, but rather argues landowners’ Fifth Amendment rights were bypassed when the county acquired the rail corridor.
“By analogy, think of any other time when a local government entity takes land and turns it into your typical public park. … They can do it, they just have to compensate the landowners,” he said.