You may recall that we briefly reported on this case the day it was issued, with the promise that we would provide more details on the ruling in a future blog post. So, here it is!
In a dispute that arose over a cemetery, the U.S. Supreme Court recently buried longstanding precedent and held that takings-claim plaintiffs may now sue directly in federal court. The controversial ruling came down in Knickv. Township of Scott, where a cemetery owner claimed that a township ordinance requiring her to keep her land “open and accessible to the general public during daylight hours” constituted an unlawful taking under the Fifth Amendment.
Two lower federal courts struck down the plaintiff’s claim following the precedent of Williamson Cty. Reg’l Planning Com. v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City. The Court in Williamson County held that property owners first had to “exhaust” all available remedies and litigate in state court before the claim could be brought in federal court. Additionally, the Williamson County Court reasoned that the “Fifth Amendment proscribes takings without just compensation,” and thus, no constitutional violation occurs until the compensation is denied to the plaintiff. The Williamson County Court relied heavily on earlier 19th Century precedent where governments may avoid paying compensation at the time of the property deprivation so long as they make a “reasonable, certain, and adequate” mechanism for recovering compensation available. Critics of the Williamson County stated that “Williamson County [has] essentially demoted the Takings Clause to a second-class citizen among the Bill of Rights,” because “no other constitutional right is subjected to a such a legal labyrinth.”
The majority in Knick overruled Williamson County, and reasoned that the “state-litigation requirement imposes an unjustifiable burden on takings plaintiffs.” Further, following the precedent set forth in Jacobs v. United States and First English Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Cty. of L.A., the Court concluded that a constitutional violation originates from the property deprivation itself, not so much from the denial of compensation that arises in state court later down the line. The majority provides some—perhaps cold—assurance that the government will not be hamstrung by injunctions from taking property in the future, when it states “as long as just compensation remedies are available…injunctive relief will be foreclosed.” Lastly, the majority addressed the concerns raised by the dissenters over its break with longstanding precedent, by reasoning that the quality, workability of the current rule established, and its consistency with other decisions.
In summary, the Court’s decision in Knick is a huge break with past precedent and will now allow takings-claim plaintiffs to bring a §1983 civil rights action directly in federal court. In addition, the decision may create an increase in takings-claim litigation over existing land use regulations. If it was not as obvious before, the Knick decision warrants governments carefully considering how existing and new land use regulation potentially create a taking. The further implications on local governments are not yet clear; however, local governments will still most likely be able to move forward in taking property without the hindrance of injunctions, so long as they are prepared to litigate the claim in federal court.
Post Authored by David Silverman and Rain Montero, Ancel Glink