Knick v. Township of Scott

In Knick, the U. S. Supreme Court agreed that property owners are entitled to enforce their right to just compensation in federal court in situations where governmental entities take their property in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In overruling Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank (1985), a case that for the last 30 years barred takings plaintiffs from federal court until they had exhausted certain state remedies, the Court placed property rights on the same constitutional footing as other federal constitutional rights. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts stated that property rights shall now have “the full fledged constitutional status they should enjoy,” meaning that they are recognized as equal to other civil and constitutional rights enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

In Knick the Township of Scott, Pennsylvania adopted an ordinance requiring owners of both public and private cemeteries to not only maintain them, but keep them open to members of the public during daylight hours. Thereafter, a Town code inspector visited Rose Mary Knick, and, after inspecting her private property without a warrant, informed her that the stones on her property were actually grave markers, subjecting her to the scope of the ordinance and opening her up to a citation for non-compliance with its requirements.

When Ms. Knick ultimately sued the Town in federal court on a property rights taking claim for enforcing the ordinance against her, her case was thrown out under the Williamson County Doctrine. The court held that her claims could only be litigated in state court. As a result of the Knick decision overturning the Williamson County Doctrine, property owners nationwide now have more options and judical platforms within which to fight the over-regulation of their property by zealous governmental entities and other abusive practices that often result in the denial of all economically viable uses.

Rosemary Knick was represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation. To view the Amicus Brief which Owners’ Counsel of America wrote in the Knick case, click here.