In 2014, Claimants, who owned 659 parcels of land, and the Government entered into an agreement to settle the pending rails-to-trails taking claims for a payment of $110 million in just compensation to 253 class members. The takings case had been filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in 2009, and was based on the Government’s conversion of a right-of-way held by Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company in Washington, into a recreational trail under Section 208 of the National Trail System Act Amendment of 1983. The Court approved the settlement agreement, and entered a final judgment.
Two disgruntled class members, Mr. and Mrs. Woodley, appealed the final judgment, challenging the settlement alleging that they did not receive sufficient information to allow the members to cross-check the individual amount awarded to each class member. On appeal, the Government confessed error, and revoked its support of the settlement agreement. The Federal Circuit vacated the settlement agreement and remanded the case back to the Court of Federal Claims.
On remand, the Court ordered access to documentary materials and re-opened discovery, ensuring that class members received “all the discovery [they could] possibly . . . want.” Following notice and another fairness hearing, the Court denied the Government’s motion to invalidate the settlement agreement, holding that “the Settlement Agreement was and remains a binding and enforceable contract.” The Government asked the Court to delay entering judgment until after it had ruled on the attorneys’ fees issue. But Court refused to do so stating: “[C]lass members have been waiting nine years for the resolution of this case and deserve a decision on the merits without having to wait for the disposition of the statutory attorneys’ fees.”
Read Judge Lettow’s opinion here.