United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION AND ORDER
D. PETERSON DISTRICT JUDGE
case involves a dispute over ownership of an abandoned
railroad right-of-way, which runs through property owned by
pro se plaintiff Gilbert Rasmussen. Rasmussen and Sawyer
County both claim ownership of the right-of-way. Rasmussen
seeks a declaratory judgment that the county has no
legitimate claim to the right-of-way. Dkt. 1.
county moves to dismiss the case under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
Dkt. 3. I will grant the motion. Rasmussen says that his
claim to invalidate a deed conveyed by the railroad to the
county in 2013 raises a federal question because deciding
that claim will require me to interpret the Railroad Acts of
1856 and 1864. And Rasmussen asks me to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over his related state-law adverse-possession
claims to some adjacent property. But the Railroad Acts have
only a passing relationship with the facts of this case; the
material dispute is whether the railroad abandoned the
right-of-way in 1981. I will dismiss the case for lack of
jurisdiction. Rasmussen may file the case in state court
where it belongs.
the following facts from Rasmussen's complaint. Dkt. 1.
The county raises a facial challenge to Rasmussen's
complaint, so I accept all well-pleaded factual allegations
as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of
Rasmussen. See Silha v. ACT, Inc., 807 F.3d 169, 173
(7th Cir. 2015) (a facial challenge argues that a plaintiff
has not alleged a sufficient basis for subject matter
jurisdiction in his complaint).
owns a parcel of land in Sawyer County, Wisconsin. An
abandoned railroad right-of-way runs adjacent to and through
his property. The right-of-way was previously owned by the
predecessors of the Union Pacific Railroad Company. (I will
refer to Union Pacific and its predecessors together as
of the Railroad Acts of 1856 and 1864 (Act of June 3, 1856,
ch. 43, 11 Stat. 20; Act of May 5, 1864, ch. 80, 13 Stat.
66), the United States gave the railroad title to the parcels
of land adjacent to Rasmussen's property. But the United
States conveyed ownership of the Rasmussen property directly
to Rasmussen's predecessors-in-interest. So to get the
right to run railroad tracks through Rasmussen's
property, the railroad “went through condemnation
proceedings to obtain a railroad easement” over
Rasmussen's property. Dkt. 1, ¶ 18.
1981, the railroad abandoned the easement over
Rasmussen's property. After 1981, the railroad retained
no interest in the property. Rasmussen also alleges that he
has adversely possessed adjacent property.
2013, the county registered a quitclaim deed that purported
to convey title of the abandoned right-of-way on
Rasmussen's property from the railroad to the county. A
few years later, the county registered quitclaim deeds to the
adjacent property that Rasmussen also claims.
first question in every case is jurisdiction. A lawsuit does
not belong in federal court unless the complaint adequately
alleges subject matter jurisdiction. Smart v. Local 702
Int'l Bhd. Of Elc. Workers, 562 F.3d 798, 802 (7th
Cir. 2009). When, as here, a plaintiff asserts federal
question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, the claim
must arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the
relies on Samuel C. Johnson 1988 Tr. v. Bayfield Cty.,
Wis., 649 F.3d 799 (7th Cir. 2011), as a basis for
jurisdiction in this case. In Johnson, the plaintiff
sued a different Wisconsin county to challenge that
county's claim over a different section of the same
railroad right-of-way. As in this case, some parts of the
right-of-way were on land granted to the railroad by the
federal government through the Railroad Acts of 1856 and
1864, and other parts were obtained through condemnation
proceedings. But both sides in that case agreed that the
railroad had abandoned its easement over the plaintiff's
land. The county argued that it held title because the
abandoned easement had reverted to the federal government
under 43 U.S.C. § 912, and because the federal
government had then conveyed its interest in the easement to
the county. Id. at 802.
Johnson court determined that it could exercise
jurisdiction because the county's claim arose under
federal law. Deciding that case required the court to
construe § 912 and the terms of the original federal
grants to determine whether the easements had reverted to the
federal government, and thus were conveyed to the county as
the county claimed. On the merits, the court held that the
easement reverted to the land owner, and not the federal
government, when it was abandoned by the railway.
Id. at 803.
case, however, neither party's claim to the disputed
right-of-way depends on federal law. The county claims it
holds title because it obtained a quitclaim deed from the
railroad. Rasmussen seeks judgment declaring the deed invalid
because the railroad abandoned the right-of-way before
transferring its interest to the county. Rasmussen says that
I need to determine whether the railroad acquired its deed
under the Railroad Acts. But how the railroad originally
obtained its interest is irrelevant to the deed's
validity; Rasmussen does not challenge the railroad's
original claim to the right-of-way. Instead, the dispute is
whether the railroad abandoned the ...