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Out west, because of how the railroad acquired property for its purposes back in the 1800s, the US government end up with a series of landholdings that are checkerboarded with private landholdings. Imagine a checkerboard where every black square is private property and every red square is public lands. The government did this on purpose thinking the land would all be valuable and by giving the railroads every other section it would increase the value of the remaining held sections and the land held by the government would be sold to offset the land given away.

Turns out, people who wanted to move west were not wealthy land buyers, so the government ended up holding the bag on some of these parcels to this day.

Now imagine the private squares are all owned by one landowner How does the public access its property for hunting or recreation? The basic concept is “corner crossing”, where you step form the corner of one government square to the other. In practice, that involves your arms and legs probably invading the airspace of the other privately held lands. To the private landowner, this idea is bunk as it allows access to public grounds that otherwise could only be accessed via their permission across their ground. The script is flipped when private landowners have forest areas that are checker boarded and they want access over government lands. There the government may be reluctant to allow corner crossing as without it, the private lands are subject to whatever access and forest management practices the government wants to allow. In other cases, the government granted checkerboard parcels on Native American lands, effectively fractionalizing reservation lands and setting up conflicts between various interests.

In 2021, some hunters pushed the issue to the courts when they were accused of criminal trespass by the landowner when they corner crossed. The jury said not guilty. The civil case is still winding its way through the federal court with a ruling favoring corner crossing as not a civil trespass from a district court now being challenged in the federal appeals court. The hunters are relying upon Unlawful Inclosures (yes, that is how it is spelled) Act of 1885 and a ruling from the appeals court in the 1900s that indicates following sheep into a cross corner is not an invasion. The appeals court at that time was the 8th before it was split. The 6000 acre land owner based in North Carolina who is fighting it, says because the ruling was before the 8th was split into the 10th and the 8th, it doesn’t hold water and a later case involving a road construction attempt to corner cross favored the landowners position.

The application is about air space, which has big ramifications for drone use in ag and retail applications. When can you stop a drone from flying over your property , however briefly? Right now, a world war II era case establishes landowners have a 400 foot right above their land to exclude others. This case, though about hunting can be boot strapped into future arguments about corner cutting by drones as the stay on the quickest path to deliver our consumer goods.

Thursday, June 13, 2024
  • Patrick B. Dillon
  • Jill Dillon
  • Tori Beyer
Dillon Law PC
Patrick B. Dillon enjoys finding solutions to legal issues and catching problems for clients. Pat practices in the Sumner office regularly represents clients in district, associate district and magistrate courts for agricultural, real estate, criminal and collection issues. He drafts wills and trusts, creates estate plans and helps clients through the probate process.
Dillon Law PC
Jill is a University of Northern Iowa undergraduate (Political Science Cum Laude) and a Drake University Law School graduate. Jill is a firm owner but not currently accepting private pay clients. Jill still has ties to her family farm operation which includes a dairy herd.
Dillon Law PC
Tori is a University of Iowa undergraduate where she double majored in Criminology, Justice, and Law and Ethics and Public Policy and a North Dakota Law School graduate. Tori practices in the Sumner office. Tori's areas of practice include but are not limited to estate planning, wills/probate, criminal defense, and civil litigation.

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