On June 21, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a private property rights decision that gives plaintiffs an option to pursue their case in either federal or state courts. Prior to the ruling, they had to begin the process in state courts.
According to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), the Supreme Court case (Knick v. Township of Scott, 17-647) decision will likely cause many state and local governments to be more thoughtful and deliberate when developing laws or regulations that infringe on Americans’ private property rights.
In the Knick v. Township of Scott case, the plaintiffs accused local governments of violating the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiff, Rose Mary Knick, lived in a Pennsylvania township with an ordinance requiring anyone with a cemetery on their property to open it to the public during the day. While Knick and local officials disagree on whether there is actually an old cemetery on her property or not, the Supreme Court decision centered on the mandatory public access rule if there was, indeed, a cemetery on her property.
According to Knick, the townships mandatory-access ordinance – adopted in 2012 and applied to her property – essentially took her property and opened it to the public without paying her for it. She took her complaint to a federal court first, but that court ruled that Knick had to turn to the state courts first, a system established 34 years earlier by a 1985 Supreme Court decision.
“A property owner has a claim for a violation of the Takings Clause as soon as government takes his property for public use without paying for it,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the ruling. “The property owner may sue the government at that time in federal court.”
Property owners had previously been required to exhaust all remedies to receive just compensation for private property seizure in state court before they could escalate the case to federal court.
“Going forward, property owners will have both state and federal court available to redress their property rights,” NAR said in a statement about the decision. “NAR expects this new development to prompt state and local governments to be more strategic regarding takings, especially in the areas of land use planning and environmental regulations, in order to avoid the uncertainty of litigation in federal court. Considerations surrounding compensation should intensify and increase, as well.”
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