Appeal from Circuit Court of De Witt County No. 94MR16 Honorable John P. Shonkwiler, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht
In July 1994, plaintiffs, Kenneth W. Smith, Patricia Ann Smith, Helen Gilliland Hughes, as trustee of the Helen Gilliland Hughes trust dated November 10, 1993, and Ann Gilliland, filed a complaint against defendants, Laverne Malone, Sharon Malone, William C. Edwards, as trustee under declaration of trust of William C. Edwards dated January 25, 1994, and Bertha A. Edwards, as trustee under declaration of trust of Bertha A. Edwards dated January 25, 1994, for ejectment and quiet title regarding a strip of former Illinois Central Railroad (Railroad) right-of-way property. In March 2000, the trial court granted defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint without leave to file an amended complaint. Plaintiffs appeal, arguing the trial court erred in interpreting section 912 of Title 43 of the United States Code (43 U.S.C. §912 (1994)) as requiring plain tiffs to allege a chain of title to the right-of-way and not giving them title as adjacent landowners. We affirm.
Plaintiffs' original complaint for ejectment and quiet title alleged (1) they owned in fee simple certain property, an abandoned railroad right-of-way in De Witt County, running through section 35 of township 19 north; (2) in February 1988, the Railroad purported to convey portions of the right-of-way to William C. Edwards; (3) thereafter, Edwards purported to convey his interest to the other defendants; (4) plaintiffs entered into possession of the right-of-way under claim of title and began to farm the property; and (5) defendants claimed title to the right-of-way and interfered with plaintiffs' possession of the property. In September 1994, plaintiffs filed a motion to amend their complaint to seek in the alternative declaratory judgment, asking the trial court to find the Railroad abandoned its interest in the right-of-way and plaintiffs are the owners of the right-of-way. In October 1994, plaintiffs filed a motion to file their second-amended complaint to additionally allege they "are successors in title and interest to whom title of the United States has been granted, conveying or purporting to convey the whole of the legal subdivision traversed or occupied by the [right-of-way]."
In August 1999, defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-615(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615(a) (West 1998)). In March 2000, the trial court granted defendants' motion to dismiss, stating:
"The court believes that in [plaintiffs'] complaint they must rely solely on their color of title. The court therefore finds as a matter of law [s]section 912 does not provide that an abandoned railroad right-of-way reverts automatically to the adjacent land owner of the right-of-way."
The trial court also denied plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint. After the trial court's ruling, plaintiffs' attorney asked for clarification:
"MS. HEINZ: It was my understanding that the defendants were arguing that we never alleged that we could show that we were successor[s] in interest in the title of the property *** but that is an allegation in the second[-]amended complaint.
THE COURT: Counsel, the court understands that the plaintiffs allege that their right to title is that they are adjacent land owners.
MS. HEINZ: Or successors in interest. We say they are the same thing."
In April 2000, plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal without filing a motion for reconsideration.
B. History of Disputed Right-of-Way
On September 20, 1850, Congress granted the State of Illinois a 200-foot-wide right-of-way through public lands in Illinois to construct a railroad from Cairo to La Salle, with a branch to Chicago and another to Dubuque. Act of September 20, 1850, 9 Stat. 466 (1850); State v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 246 Ill. 188, 197, 92 N.E. 814, 820 (1910). The United States also granted Illinois every alternate section of land for six miles in width on each side of the right-of-way to be sold to finance the construction of the Illinois railroad lines. Act of September 20, 1850, 9 Stat. 466 (1850); Illinois Central, 246 Ill. at 197, 92 N.E. at 820. The parcels of land granted to Illinois under this "checkerboard" land-grant scheme were designated with even numbers. Act of September 20, 1850, 9 Stat. 466 (1850). The right-of-way in dispute crosses the section of land numbered 35.
In February 1851, the State of Illinois incorporated the Railroad to undertake the railroad expansion through Illinois. Illinois Central, 246 Ill. at 198, 92 N.E. at 820. In March 1851, Illinois Governor Augustus C. French deeded the land granted to Illinois by the United States to the Railroad, allowing the Railroad to construct the Illinois portion of the Chicago, Illinois, to Mobile, Alabama, cross-country railroad system.
The record does not reflect the complete chain of title to this land, including any United States patents conveying title to this land. In November 1993, Hughes, as trustee of the Helen Gilliland Hughes trust dated November 10, 1993, obtained a warranty deed conveying an undivided one-half interest in "that part of the [west] 1/2 of the [northwest] 1/4 of [section] 35, [township] 19 [north], [range] 2 [east] of the [third principal meridian], containing 29 acres, more or less, and lying [west] of the former right-of-way of the [Railroad]." Gilliland owned the other undivided one-half interest in this parcel. In March 1987, the Smiths obtained by warranty deed the following property:
"Beginning at an iron pin on the [n]orth line of the [w]est 1/2 of [s]section 35, [t]ownship 19 [n]orth, [r]ange 2 [e]ast of the [third principal meridian], a distance of 1[,]008.72 feet [w]esterly of the [n]ortheast corner thereof; thence [south] *** a distance of 4[,]594.75 feet to an iron pin on the [n]orth line of the [s]outh 31-acre exception lying [e]ast of the [Railroad] right[-]of[-]way line in the [w]est 1/2 of said [s]section 35; thence *** [w]est, on the [n]orth line of the [s]outh 31 acres, 932.49 feet to an iron pin on the [e]ast right[-]of[-]way line of the [Railroad]; thence [n]orth on the said [e]ast right[-]of[-]way line a distance of 4[,]596.67 feet to an iron pin on the [n]orth line of the [w]est 1/2 of said [s]section 35; thence *** [e]ast on the [n]orth line of the [w]est 1/2 of said [s]section 35 a distance of 1[,]008.15 feet to the point of beginning, containing 102.361 acres more or less."
In February 1988, the Railroad quitclaimed all its right, title, and interest to the original 200-foot-wide railroad right-of-way in section 35 to William C. Edwards. Between 1988 and 1994, Edwards ...