AT&T has agreed to a settlement of a class action brought by landowners who own land under to the railroad right-of-way. Fiber optic companies, including AT&T, buried fiber optic cable in the railroad right-of-way. In this case, the landowners argued that they own the subsurface rights adjacent to the railroad right-of-way and should be compensated by AT&T, and other fiber optic companies, for use of their land.
Previously, an Indiana Court had ruled that North Dakota claimants, and claimants from other states, who brought claims against “land grant” railroads (such as the Burlington Northern) and fiber optic companies who bury cable under the right-of-way of such railroads, could not bring such claims. Nevertheless, settlement negotiations continued.
On June 28, 2007, an Indiana judge preliminarily approved a settlement of those land grant cases including North Dakota. Under the settlement, AT&T has agreed to pay landowners who own land adjacent to the BN mainline $0.60 per linear foot. This amount is reduced by 30% if the cable corridor has multiple cables. In North Dakota, much of the railroad right-of-way has multiple cables and therefore AT&T’s settlement would be $0.42 per linear foot for most North Dakota landowners.
In order to qualify for the settlement, the landowner must own land adjacent to the BN Mainline and on the “cable side” of the right-of-way.
Detailed claim information will be provided in the future to our clients and others who own such land in North Dakota. The settlement also includes other states, including Montana and Wyoming.
Our firm continues to pursue a claim on behalf of North Dakota landowners against Sprint.
The Federal Government gave “land grant” right-of-ways to Railroad Companies in order to establish the railroad. These original right-of-ways were limited to the use of the land for railroad purposes. The legal owner of the land subject to the railroad right-of-way is the owner of the property adjacent to the railroad.
Companies involved in the development of high-speed communications, such as Sprint and AT&T, needed a way to quickly extend their fiber-optic cables across the country so they could sell the use of its information transferring capabilities for a profit. Sprint and other communications companies entered into agreements with railroads, including the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company, to pay the railroads a fee for burying their communications cable under the railroad right-of-ways. The railroads knew that their right-of-way privileges to conduct a railroad did not include the right to bury the cable in the land owned by adjacent property owners.
The agreements between the communications companies and the railroads allowed the communications companies to make a profit selling their services and the railroad to collect a user fee from the communications companies for the land they did not own without any payments being made to the legal owner of the land.
Solberg, Stewart & Miller represents hundreds of uncompensated landowners who own property adjacent to the Burlington Northern mainline from Fargo through Dickinson to the Montana border.
Contact us for more information contact Solberg, Stewart & Miller at (701) 401-8588.