Knick v. Township of Scott, 062119 FEDSC, 17-647

Docket Nº:17-647
Judge Panel:ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which THOMAS, ALITO, GORSUCH, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion. KAGAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GlNS-BURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., concurring Justice Thomas, concurring...
Case Date:June 21, 2019
Court:United States Supreme Court

588 U.S. ____ (2019)




No. 17-647

United States Supreme Court

June 21, 2019

Argued October 3, 2018

Reargued January 16, 2019

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT No. 17-647. 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, 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.


1. A government violates the Takings Clause when it takes property without compensation, and a property owner may bring a Fifth Amendment claim under §1983 at that time. Pp. 5-20.

(a) In Williamson County, the Court held that, as relevant here, a property developer's federal takings claim was "premature" because he had not sought compensation through the State's inverse condemnation procedure. 473 U.S., at 197. The unanticipated consequence of this ruling was that a takings plaintiff who complied with Williamson County and brought a compensation claim in state court would- on proceeding to federal court after the unsuccessful state claim- have the federal claim barred because the full faith and credit statute required the federal court to give preclusive effect to the state court's decision. San Remo Hotel, L. P. v. City and County of San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323, 347. Pp. 5-6.

(b) This Court has long recognized that property owners may bring Fifth Amendment claims for compensation as soon as their property has been taken, regardless of any other post-taking remedies that may be available to the property owner. See Jacobs v. United States, 290 U.S. 13. The Court departed from that understanding in Williamson County and held that a taking gives rise not to a constitutional right to just compensation, but instead gives a right to a state law procedure that will eventually result in just compensation. Just two years after Williamson County, however, the Court returned to its traditional understanding of the Fifth Amendment, holding that the compensation remedy is required by the Constitution in the event of a taking. First English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale v. County of Los Angeles, 482 U.S. 304. A property owner acquires a right to compensation immediately upon an uncompensated taking because the taking itself violates the Fifth Amendment. See San Diego Gas & Elec. Co. v. San Diego, 450 U.S. 621, 654 (Brennan, J., dissenting). The property owner may, therefore, bring a claim under §1983 for the deprivation of a constitutional right at that time. Pp. 6-12.

(c) Williamson County's understanding of the Takings Clause was drawn from Ruckelshaus v. Monsanto Co., 467 U.S. 986, where the plaintiff sought to enjoin a federal statute because it effected a taking, even though the statute set up a mandatory arbitration procedure for obtaining compensation. Id., at 1018. That case does not support Williamson County, however, because Congress-unlike the States-is free to require plaintiffs to exhaust administrative remedies before bringing constitutional claims. Williamson County also analogized its new state-litigation requirement to federal takings practice under the Tucker Act, but a claim for just compensation brought under the Tucker Act is not a prerequisite to a Fifth Amendment takings claim-it is a Fifth Amendment takings claim. Williamson County also looked to Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527. But Parratt was not a takings case at all, and the analogy from the due process context to the takings context is strained. The poor reasoning of Williamson County may be partially explained by the cir- cumstances in which the state-litigation issue reached the Court, which may not have permitted the Court to adequately test the logic of the state-litigation requirement or consider its implications. Pp. 12-16.

(d) Respondents read too broadly statements in prior opinions that the Takings Clause "does not provide or require that compensation shall be actually paid in advance of the occupancy of the land to be taken. But the owner is entitled to reasonable, certain and adequate provision for obtaining compensation" after a taking. Cherokee Nation v. Southern Kansas R. Co., 135 U.S. 641, 659. Those statements concerned requests for injunctive relief, and the availability of subsequent compensation meant that such an equitable remedy was not available. Simply because the property owner was not entitled to injunctive relief at the time of the taking does not mean there was no violation of the Takings Clause at that time. The history of takings litigation provides valuable context. At the time of the founding, there usually was no compensation remedy available to property owners, who could obtain only retrospective damages, as well as an injunction ejecting the government from the property going forward. But in the 1870s, as state courts began to recognize implied rights of action for damages under the state equivalents of the Takings Clause, they declined to grant injunctions because property owners had an adequate remedy at law. Congress enabled property owners to obtain compensation for takings by the Federal Government when it passed the Tucker Act in 1887, and this Court subsequently joined the state courts in holding that the compensation remedy is required by the Takings Clause itself. Today, because the federal and nearly all state governments provide just compensation remedies to property owners who have suffered a taking, equitable relief is generally unavailable. As long as an adequate provision for obtaining just compensation exists, there is no basis to enjoin government action effecting a taking. Pp. 16-19.

2. The state-litigation requirement of Williamson County is overruled. Several factors counsel in favor of this decision. Williamson County was poorly reasoned and conflicts with much of the Court's takings jurisprudence. Because of its shaky foundations, the rationale for the state-litigation requirement has been repeatedly recast by this Court and the defenders of Williamson County. The state-litigation requirement also proved to be unworkable in practice because the San Remo preclusion trap prevented takings plaintiffs from ever bringing their claims in federal court, contrary to the expectations of the Williamson County Court. Finally, there are no reliance interests on the state-litigation requirement. As long as post-taking compensation remedies are available, governments need not fear that federal courts will invalidate their regulations as unconstitutional. Pp. 20-23.

862 F.3d 310, vacated and remanded.

ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which THOMAS, ALITO, GORSUCH, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion. KAGAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GlNS-BURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined.



The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment states that "private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation." In Williamson County Regional Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), we held that a property owner whose property has been taken by a local government has not suffered a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights-and thus cannot bring a federal takings claim in federal court-until a state court has denied his claim for just compensation under state law.

The Williamson County Court anticipated that if the property owner failed to secure just compensation under state law in state court, he would be able to bring a "ripe" federal takings claim in federal court. See id., at 194. But as we later held in San Remo Hotel, L. P. v. City and County of San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323 (2005), a state court's...

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