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Law School Case Brief

Knick v. Twp. of Scott - No. 17-647, 2019 U.S. LEXIS 4197 (June 21, 2019)

Rule:

A property owner has a claim for a violation of the Takings Clause as soon as a government takes his property for public use without paying for it. The Clause provides: Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. It does not say: Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without an available procedure that will result in compensation. If a local government takes private property without paying for it, that government has violated the Fifth Amendment, just as the Takings Clause says, without regard to subsequent state court proceedings. And the property owner may sue the government at that time in federal court for the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution. 

Facts:

The Township of Scott, Pennsylvania, passed an ordinance requiring that “[a]ll cemeteries . . . be kept open and accessible to the general public during daylight hours.” Petitioner Rose Mary Knick, whose 90-acre rural property has a small family graveyard, was notified that she was violating the ordinance. Knick sought declaratory and injunctive relief in state court on the ground that the ordinance effected a taking of her property, but she did not bring an inverse condemnation action under state law seeking compensation. The Township responded by withdrawing the violation notice and staying enforcement of the ordinance. Without an ongoing enforcement action, the court held, Knick could not demonstrate the irreparable harm necessary for equitable relief, so it declined to rule on her request. Knick then filed an action in Federal District Court under 42 U. S. C. §1983, alleging that the ordinance violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The District Court dismissed her claim under Williamson County Regional Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172, 105 S. Ct. 3108, 87 L. Ed. 2d 126, which held that property owners must seek just compensation under state law in state court before bringing a federal takings claim under §1983. The Third Circuit affirmed. Knick sought further review in the United States Supreme Court.

Issue:

Did the Pennsylvania township, which passed an ordinance regarding access to all cemeteries, violate the Takings Clause when it took property without compensation, even though the property owner did not bring an inverse condemnation action?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

A landowner was not required to pursue an inverse condemnation action against a township in state court before bringing a 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 action alleging violation of the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause because a government violated the Takings Clause when it took property without compensation, and a Fifth Amendment claim could be brought under§ 1983 at that time; The state-litigation requirement of Williamson County Regional Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), was overruled. Its key conclusion that a property owner did not have a ripe federal takings claim until he had unsuccessfully pursued an initial state law claim for just compensation ignored decisions holding that a property owner acquired a Fifth Amendment right to compensation at the time of a taking.

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