The Grateful Dead Support The Purple Line

So says the Maryland Court of Appeals, anyway. I’ll explain.

A tiny little case over a civil citation for placing an obstruction in a public right of way had threatened Montgomery County’s control and ownership of a portion of the path of the Purple Line. A Chevy Chase property owner (opposed to the Purple Line) challenged the County’s right to assess the citation on the grounds that the owner adversely possessed a portion of the right of way based on fencing and other structures on the property as far back as 1960, when the property was in use as a railroad. If the property owner was right, a whole stretch of properties, purchased by the County from the railroad in 1988 in anticipation of a light rail line now known as the Purple Line, would have needed to be repurchased from the - mainly hostile - owners along the Purple Line path, increasing the costs of the Purple Line substantially.

The citation was first heard in the District Court, which rejected the homeowner’s argument. But on appeal in the Circuit Court, the County lost, necessitating an appeal to Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. A $500 citation had morphed into a potential financial bloodbath for the county if it did not prevail in Annapolis.

Yesterday, the Court of Appeals unanimously held in favor of the County’s position, ruling that a public right of way is not subject to adverse possession claims in most circumstances. My favorite part of the opinion, however, is the opening paragraph. It’s not often when a judge gets the chance to quote the Grateful Dead, and retired Judge Glenn Harrell was not going to pass up the opportunity. Alluding to the property’s prior status as a railroad line for the B&O Railroad, Harrell began his opinion thusly:

Driving that train, high on cocaine,
Casey Jones you better watch your speed.
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
And you know that notion just crossed my mind.

-The Grateful Dead, Casey Jones, on Workingman’s Dead (Warner Bros. Records 1970).

In the end, Montgomery County dodged the consequences of Casey Jones’recklessness. 

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