THE STATE OF
In The Supreme Court
David W. Goldman and Emilie E. Goldman, Respondents,
RBC, Inc.,� Petitioner.
Thomas W. Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge
Opinion No. 26178
Heard June 6, 2006 - Filed July 3, 2006
J. Edward Bell, III, of
Sumter, for Petitioner.
Kristi F. Curtis, of
Sumter, for Respondents.
JUSTICE BURNETT:� RBC, Inc. (Petitioner) challenges the Court of Appeals� decision affirming the circuit court judge�s ruling quieting title to a strip of land containing an abandoned railway in David W. Goldman and Emilie E. Goldman (the Goldmans).� We affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In 1846, the General Assembly, anxious to encourage the building of railroads, granted a liberal charter by statute to the Wilmington & Manchester Railroad Company.� In provisions typically seen in railroad charters of that era, the railroad was empowered to obtain land on which to lay track by buying it and receiving a deed; condemning it through the formal process of eminent domain; or through a statutory presumption of grant by which the railroad would simply lay track where it wished and then, if the owner asserted his rights within ten years after completion, pay the owner a fair market price for the land.� Act No. 2986, 1846 S.C. Acts 402, �� XVI and XVII.� It is the third method which is at issue in the present case, and it is undisputed the owner of the land at the time of construction never sought compensation from the railroad by 1863, ten years after this section of track was completed.
CSX Transportation (CSX), the successor in interest to the
The Goldmans own a 190-acre farm through which a portion of the 1.19-mile track passes.� The track is located across a pond about 100 yards from their home, which they built in 1992.� Before the unanticipated sale to Petitioner, the Goldmans planned to buy the strip of land from CSX after abandonment in order to avoid litigation over its ownership and they contacted CSX to discuss a sale.
After CSX sold the land to Petitioner, the Goldmans sued Petitioner in 1998 to quiet title in themselves as adjoining landowners in the strip of land, totaling about four acres, which passes through their farm.� The circuit court, on cross-motions for summary judgment ruled in favor of the Goldmans and ordered that fee simple title is held by the Goldmans.
The Court of Appeals affirmed.� Goldman v. RBC, Inc., Op. No. 2004-UP-362 (S.C.
Did the Court of Appeals err in rejecting Petitioner�s argument that a ruling which quieted title in the Goldmans conflicts with Lewis v. Wilmington & Manchester Railroad Company, 45 S.C.L. (11 Rich.) 91 (1857)?
STANDARD OF REVIEW
An action to remove a cloud on and to quiet title to land is one in equity.� Johnson v. Arbabi, 355 S.C. 64, 68, 584 S.E.2d 113, 115 (2003).� In an action in equity tried by a judge alone, the appellate court may find facts in accordance with its view of the preponderance of the evidence.� Doe v. Clark, 318 S.C. 274, 276, 457 S.E.2d 336, 337 (1995); Townes Assocs., Ltd. v. City of
Summary judgment is appropriate when it is clear there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.� The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.� George v. Fabri, 345 S.C. 440, 548 S.E.2d 868 (2001).� In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the appellate courts apply the same standards as the trial court under Rule 56(c), SCRCP.� Baughman v. Am. Tel. and Tel. Co., 306 S.C. 101, 115, 410 S.E.2d 537, 145 (1991).
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Petitioner argues the Court of Appeals erred in declining to follow the view Petitioner believes was expressed in Lewis v. Wilmington & Manchester Railroad Company, 45 S.C.L. (11 Rich.) 91 (1857).� Petitioner contends the Goldmans are forever barred by statute from recovering the disputed land because their predecessors in interest failed to file for an assessment by 1863, ten years after completion of the railroad.� CSX�s predecessor obtained fee simple title to the property at that time, which was confirmed by this Court in Lewis and consequently became a property right which could not be divested by later developments in the law.� Specifically, Petitioner relies on the statement in Lewis that �if application for an assessment is not made within ten years after the completion of the road, the owner is forever barred from recovering the land or having an assessment, which manifests the intention of the legislature to divest the owner�s title. . . .��
In several cases, we have considered the following issue:� When a previous landowner did not assert his ownership rights and force the railroad to buy the land within a specified period after completion of the tracks pursuant to a statutory presumption of a land grant contained in a railroad charter, did the railroad (A) obtain an easement across the land as long as it was used as a railroad, with the property reverting to present adjoining landowners when no longer used as a railroad or (B) obtain title to the land in fee simple absolute, giving the railroad�s successor in interest the ability to transfer a fee simple title to the land?� We repeatedly have held that the answer to this question is (A).
Most recently, in Faulkenberry v.
We reaffirm the position we took in Faulkenberry and the earlier cases.� This result reconciles the seemingly conflicting provisions of Section XVII of the statutory charter.� Furthermore, this position represents the wiser choice on public policy grounds because it avoids unnecessary disputes between numerous past landholders and their heirs over ownership of small strips of land.
We take this opportunity to clarify Lewis, the case on which Petitioner primarily relies.� The
The Lewis Court held the later grantee could not seek compensation, and in doing so indicated in passing that �if application for an assessment is not made within ten years after the completion of the road, the owner is forever barred from recovering the land or having an assessment, which manifests the intention of the legislature to divest the owner�s title, reserving to him the right to claim the purchase money or compensation alone. . . .��
We reaffirm our previous holdings and conclude that when a previous landowner did not assert his ownership rights and force the railroad to buy the land within a specified period after completion of the tracks pursuant to a statutory presumption of a land grant contained in a railroad charter, the railroad obtained an easement across the land as long as it was used as a railroad, with the property reverting to present adjoining landowners when no longer used as a railroad.� We reject an interpretation of Lewis, 45 S.C.L. 91, which conflicts with this established proposition.� Accordingly, the Court of Appeals properly affirmed the circuit court�s grant of summary judgment to the Goldmans.
TOAL, C.J., MOORE, WALLER, JJ., and Acting Justice D. Garrison Hill, concur.
� Section XVII of the railroad�s charter prescribed the method by which the railroad acquired land by statutory presumption of grant:
In the absence of any contract or contracts with the said company, in relation to land through which the said road may pass, signed by the owner thereof, or by his agent, or any claimant or person in possession thereof, which may be confirmed by the owner thereof, it shall be presumed that the land upon which the road may be constructed, together with a space of sixty-five feet on each side of the center of the said road, has been granted to the company by the owner or owners thereof, and the said company shall have good right and title thereto, and shall have, hold and enjoy the same, as long as the same may be used only for the purposes of the said road, and no longer, unless the person or persons owning the said land, at the time that the part of the said road which may be on the said land, was finished, or those claiming under him, her or them, shall apply for an assessment of the value of the said lands, as hereinafter directed, within ten years next after the said part was finished; and in the case the said owner or owners, or those claiming under him, her or them, shall not apply for such assessment within ten years next after the said road is finished, he, she, or they shall be forever barred from recovering the said land, or having any assessment or compensation therefore; provided, Nothing herein contained shall effect the rights of feme coverts or infants, until two years after the removal of their respective disabilities.
Act No. 2986, 1846 S.C. Acts 402, � XVII.� The emphasized portions of the charter highlight the language which has given rise to issues presented in this railway abandonment case and earlier, similar cases.
� When the railroad paid for the land, whether by deed transfer, condemnation, or after an owner asserted his right to payment, the railroad obtained a fee simple title.� Waring v. Cheraw & Darlington R.R. Co., 16 S.C. 416, 423 (1882) (citing Lewis dissent for proposition that �if compensation should be claimed and paid [by the railroad], the fee-simple absolute would thereby be vested in the [railroad] company�); Ragsdale v. Southern Ry. Co., 60 S.C. 381, 389, 38 S.E. 609, 612 (1901) (same).
� Compare �the said company shall have good right and title thereto, and shall have, hold and enjoy the same, as long as the same may be used only for the purposes of the said road, and no longer,� indicating the railroad held an easement; with �[if] the said owner or owners, or those claiming under him, her or them, shall not apply for such assessment within ten years next after the said road is finished, he, she, or they shall be forever barred from recovering the said land, or having any assessment or compensation therefore;� indicating the railroad held a fee simple title.