Published on: June 28, 2019

The Supreme Court on Friday made it easier for property owners to challenge land-use regulations and seek compensation from the government, a ruling that revealed deep divisions between the court’s conservative and liberal camps when it comes to property rights.

The Court, in a 5-to-4 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, sided with a Pennsylvania woman who challenged a requirement by the rural community of Scott Township that she provide public access to a gravesite on her 90-acre property.

The Chief Justice, writing for the court’s conservative majority, said landowner Rose Mary Knick could file a federal lawsuit that challenged a town ordinance on gravesite access and sought compensation for a “taking” of her property.

The case overrules precedent from 1985 that required a plaintiff who believed that he/she suffered a taking without just compensation to first sue in State Court for compensation before bringing a constitutional challenge under 42 USC section 1983 for deprivation of a right secured by the United States Constitution.  The reason that the Supreme Court overruled the prior precedent is because if the Plaintiff lost in State Court they would be barred from bringing a Federal Challenge under the United States Constitution, because the Federal Court would be required to give full faith and credit to the State Court Judgment under the Full Faith and Credit Act (which Justice Roberts describes as the “San Remo Trap” (based on a decision of the same name).

“Takings claims against local governments should be handled the same as other claims” for federal constitutional violations, the chief justice wrote in a 23-page opinion striking down the state-court-first requirement.

The ruling is likely to give federal judges more oversight of local land-use regulations since property owners will no longer need to initially go to state courts. Property-rights advocates have viewed state courts as more sympathetic to municipal officials than to landowners.

The Decision opens the door for governmental takings claims.  MEEB’s Ed Allcock has prepared a United States Supreme Court Brief on the issue of Judicial takings and staunch advocate of property rights.  If you have any questions about this article contact Ed Allcock at eallcock@meeb.com.

For a copy of the Decision [click here].