In 2012, a group of landowners, later certified as a class, filed a taking case in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeking just compensation for the Government’s “railbanking” of their land “for possible future reactivation as a railroad under the National Trails System Act.”  The case involved land held as a right-of-way for the Iowa River Railroad. On May 8, 2018, the Court of Federal Claims approved a $3,455,216.13 settlement agreement between 158 members of a settlement subclass who owned 253 parcels of land.

At the fairness hearing, class counsel advised the Court that “[t]he settlement is fair across the board for all class members because it is based on the amount of land actually taken from each class member and is specifically based on the value of their specific property as negotiated over [a] several-year period of time.” 137 of the 158 class members affirmatively expressed their approval of the settlement agreement and no class members objected.

In reviewing the proposed settlement, the Court stated that it must find that the proposal is fair, in procedural and substantive fairness, and that it is reasonable and adequate. The Court concluded the proposed settlement was procedurally fair because the agreement resulted from an arm’s-length negotiation demonstrated by the class counsel’s zealous advocacy for the class members throughout the case. The Court also noted the parties filed separate status reports when negotiations reached disagreements. The Court concluded the settlement was substantively fair because “the Settlement Agreement [wa]s a reasonable result when balancing the strengths and weaknesses of the plaintiffs’ case with the likely costs and uncertainties appurtenant to proceeding to trial.” The Court further concluded the settlement was fair to the class and the contingency fee agreements were reasonable. Therefore, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for approval of the settlement agreement.

Read Judge Lettow’s full opinion here.