Real Estate Law / Land Use:
The Indiana Supreme Court recently addressed a real estate law question certified from the United States Court of Federal Claims regarding "rails to trails." The issue was whether "railbanking" of an abandoned railroad easement was permitted under Indiana law for purposes of the National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1274(d). The Court concluded that under Indiana law, railbanking and interim trail use pursuant to the Trails Act are not uses within the scope of the easements, and railbanking with interim trail use does not constitute a permissible shifting public use. The Court reasoned as follows:
Indiana law with respect to the scope of easements is well settled. The extent of the easement interest is determined by the purpose served by the easement. New York Cent. R.R. Co. v. Yarian, 219 Ind. 477, 482–83, 39 N.E.2d 604, 606 (1942) ("It is sometimes said that reservations of easements are strictly limited to the purposes in the minds of the parties, but we believe a proper application of the rule puts the limitation not upon the character of traffic upon a reserved way, but upon the purpose to be served by the traffic."); see also McCauley v. Harris, 928 N.E.2d 309, 314 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010) ("It is well established that easements are limited to the purpose for which they are granted."), trans. denied.
Usually, easements arise to fill some need or serve some purpose. That purpose, whether expressed in the grant, implied, or acquired through prescription, is the focal point in the relationship which exists between the titleholders of the dominant and servient estates. The servient estate is burdened to the extent necessary to accomplish the end for which the dominant estate was created. The titleholder of the dominant estate cannot subject the servient estate to extra burdens any more than the holder of the servient estate can mate-rially impair or unreasonably interfere with the use of the easement.
Klotz v. Horn, 558 N.E.2d 1096, 1099–1100 (Ind. 1990) (citations omitted) (quoting Brown v. Heidersbach, 172 Ind. App. 434, 438, 360 N.E.2d 614, 618 (1977), reh'g denied, trans. denied). And while this Court has had little occasion to apply these rules of late, these principles continue to have force today. See, e.g., Rehl v. Billetz, No. 52A05-1105-PL-246, 2012 WL 77213, at *4 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), pet. for reh'g pending; Kwolek v. Swickard, 944 N.E.2d 564, 571 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011), trans. denied; McCauley, 928 N.E.2d at 314.
The fact that the majority of the easements at issue in this case were created by prescription or condemnation and not granted by deed does not alter the analysis. The purpose of the adverse use giving rise to an easement by prescription determines the extent of the interest. Consumers' Gas Trust Co. v. Am. Plate Glass Co., 162 Ind. 393, 396, 68 N.E. 1020, 1021 (1903) ("A prescriptive right, where there is no color of title, cannot be broader than the claim which the us-er evidences."); Brookville & Metamora Hydraulic Co. v. Butler, 91 Ind. 134, 136 (1883) ("A prescriptive right can never be broader than the claim evidenced by [the] user."); Postlethwaite v. Payne, 8 Ind. 104, 107 (1856) ("[Prescriptive easements] must have been enjoyed in the same degree—to the same extent—as claimed in the suit involving them."); Contel of Ind., Inc. v. Coulson, 659 N.E.2d 224, 229 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995) ("A prescriptive easement is limited to the purpose for which it is created and cannot be extended by implication."), reh'g denied, trans. denied; Heidersbach, 172 Ind. App. at 439, 360 N.E.2d at 618 ("All easements are limited to the purpose for which they were created, and their enjoyment cannot be extended by implication.").
Likewise, railroad rights of way created by condemnation establish only easements that are nec-essarily limited to the purpose for which they are taken. Quick v. Taylor, 113 Ind. 540, 542–43, 16 N.E. 588, 589–90 (1888) ("The doctrine generally accepted is, that the right acquired by the power of eminent domain extends only to an easement in the land taken, unless the statute plain-ly provides for the acquisition of a larger interest."); accord Chi. & W. Mich. Ry. Co. v. Huncheon, 130 Ind. 529, 532–33, 30 N.E. 636, 637 (1892); Hoffman v. Zollman, 49 Ind. App. 664, 670 (1912); Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chi., and St. Louis Ry. Co. v. Doan, 47 Ind. App. 322, 325, 94 N.E. 598, 599 (1911); see also Meyer v. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co., 254 Ind. 112, 115, 258 N.E.2d 57, 58 (1970) ("Eminent domain is limited by the necessity of the take and the condemn-ing authority may condemn only for future use which is fairly and reasonably needed."); Kessler v. City of Indianapolis, 199 Ind. 420, 426, 157 N.E. 547, 549 (1927) ("The purpose for which private property is condemned is the very basis of the right to condemn."). Thus, the purpose for which the property is acquired, either through prescription or condemnation, determines the scope of the easement, and the holder of the easement cannot impose a different or extra burden upon the landowner. Klotz, 558 N.E.2d at 1100 (quoting Heidersbach, 172 Ind. App. at 438, 360 N.E.2d at 618).