Knick v. Twp. of Scott, 17-647

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtChief Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Citation204 L.Ed.2d 558,139 S.Ct. 2162
Parties Rose Mary KNICK, PETITIONER v. TOWNSHIP OF SCOTT, PENNSYLVANIA, et al.
Docket NumberNo. 17-647,17-647
Decision Date21 June 2019

139 S.Ct. 2162
204 L.Ed.2d 558

Rose Mary KNICK, PETITIONER
v.
TOWNSHIP OF SCOTT, PENNSYLVANIA, et al.

No. 17-647

Supreme Court of the United States.

Argued October 3, 2018
Reargued January 16, 2019
Decided June 21, 2019


J. David Breemer, Sacramento, CA, for Petitioner.

Teresa Ficken Sachs, Philadelphia, PA, for Respondents.

Solicitor General Francisco for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the Petitioner.

J. David Breemer, Meriem L. Hubbard, Brian T. Hodges, Christina M. Martin, Pacific Legal Foundation, Sacramento, CA, for Petitioner.

Matthew Littleton, David T. Goldberg, Donahue, Goldberg & Weaver, LLP, Washington, DC, Teresa Ficken Sachs, Mark J. Kozlowski, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Philadelphia, PA, for Respondents.

Chief Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

139 S.Ct. 2167

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, 105 S.Ct. 3108, 87 L.Ed.2d 126 (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, 105 S.Ct. 3108. But as we later held in San Remo Hotel, L. P. v. City and County of San Francisco , 545 U.S. 323, 125 S.Ct. 2491, 162 L.Ed.2d 315 (2005), a state court's resolution of a claim for just compensation under state law generally has preclusive effect in any subsequent federal suit. The takings plaintiff thus finds himself in a Catch-22: He cannot go to federal court without going to state court first; but if he goes to state court and loses, his claim will be barred in federal court. The federal claim dies aborning.

The San Remo preclusion trap should tip us off that the state-litigation requirement rests on a mistaken view of the Fifth Amendment. The Civil Rights Act of 1871, after all, guarantees "a federal forum for claims of unconstitutional treatment at the hands of state officials," and the settled rule is that "exhaustion of state remedies ‘is not a prerequisite to an action under [ 42 U.S.C.] § 1983.’ " Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477, 480, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994) (quoting Patsy v. Board of Regents of Fla. , 457 U.S. 496, 501, 102 S.Ct. 2557, 73 L.Ed.2d 172 (1982) ). But the guarantee of a federal forum rings hollow for takings plaintiffs, who are forced to litigate their claims in state court.

We now conclude that the state-litigation requirement imposes an unjustifiable burden on takings plaintiffs, conflicts with the rest of our takings jurisprudence, and must be overruled. A property owner has an actionable Fifth Amendment takings claim when the government takes his property without paying for it. That does

139 S.Ct. 2168

not mean that the government must provide compensation in advance of a taking or risk having its action invalidated: So long as the property owner has some way to obtain compensation after the fact, governments need not fear that courts will enjoin their activities. But it does mean that the property owner has suffered a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights when the government takes his property without just compensation, and therefore may bring his claim in federal court under § 1983 at that time.

I

Petitioner Rose Mary Knick owns 90 acres of land in Scott Township, Pennsylvania, a small community just north of Scranton. Knick lives in a single-family home on the property and uses the rest of the land as a grazing area for horses and other farm animals. The property includes a small graveyard where the ancestors of Knick's neighbors are allegedly buried. Such family cemeteries are fairly common in Pennsylvania, where "backyard burials" have long been permitted.

In December 2012, the Township passed an ordinance requiring that "[a]ll cemeteries ... be kept open and accessible to the general public during daylight hours." The ordinance defined a "cemetery" as "[a] place or area of ground, whether contained on private or public property, which has been set apart for or otherwise utilized as a burial place for deceased human beings." The ordinance also authorized Township "code enforcement" officers to "enter upon any property" to determine the existence and location of a cemetery. App. 21–23.

In 2013, a Township officer found several grave markers on Knick's property and notified her that she was violating the ordinance by failing to open the cemetery to the public during the day. Knick responded by seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in state court on the ground that the ordinance effected a taking of her property. Knick did not seek compensation for the taking by bringing an "inverse condemnation" action under state law. Inverse condemnation is "a cause of action against a governmental defendant to recover the value of property which has been taken in fact by the governmental defendant." United States v. Clarke , 445 U.S. 253, 257, 100 S.Ct. 1127, 63 L.Ed.2d 373 (1980) (quoting D. Hagman, Urban Planning and Land Development Control Law 328 (1971)). Inverse condemnation stands in contrast to direct condemnation, in which the government initiates proceedings to acquire title under its eminent domain authority. Pennsylvania, like every other State besides Ohio, provides a state inverse condemnation action. 26 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 502(c) (2009).1

In response to Knick's suit, the Township withdrew the violation notice and agreed to stay enforcement of the ordinance during the state court proceedings. The court, however, declined to rule on Knick's request for declaratory and injunctive relief because, without an ongoing enforcement action, she could not demonstrate the irreparable harm necessary for equitable relief.

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.2

139 S.Ct. 2169

The District Court dismissed Knick's takings claim under Williamson County because she had not pursued an inverse condemnation action in state court. 2016 WL 4701549, *5–*6 (MD Pa., Sept. 8, 2016). On appeal, the Third Circuit noted that the ordinance was "extraordinary and constitutionally suspect," but affirmed the District Court in light of Williamson County . 862 F.3d 310, 314 (2017).

We granted certiorari to reconsider the holding of Williamson County that property owners must seek just compensation under state law in state court before bringing a federal takings claim under § 1983. 583 U.S. ––––, 138 S.Ct. 1262, 200 L.Ed.2d 416 (2018).

In Williamson County , a property developer brought a takings claim under § 1983 against a zoning board that had rejected the developer's proposal for a new subdivision. Williamson County held that the developer's Fifth Amendment claim was not "ripe" for two reasons. First, the developer still had an opportunity to seek a variance from the appeals board, so any taking was therefore not yet final. 473 U.S. at 186–194, 105 S.Ct. 3108. Knick does not question the validity of this finality requirement, which is not at issue here.

The second holding of Williamson County is that the developer had no federal takings claim because he had not sought compensation "through the procedures the State ha[d] provided for doing so." Id. , at 194, 105 S.Ct. 3108. That is the holding Knick asks us to overrule. According to the Court, "if a State provides an adequate procedure for seeking just compensation, the property owner cannot claim a violation of the [Takings] Clause until it has used the procedure and been denied just compensation." Id. , at 195, 105 S.Ct. 3108. The Court concluded that the developer's federal takings claim was "premature" because he had not sought compensation through the State's inverse condemnation procedure. Id ., at 197, 105 S.Ct. 3108.

The unanticipated consequences of this ruling were not clear until 20 years later, when this Court decided San Remo . In that case, the takings plaintiffs complied with Williamson County and brought a claim for compensation in state court. 545 U.S. at 331, 125 S.Ct. 2491. The complaint made clear that the plaintiffs sought relief only under the takings clause of the State Constitution, intending to reserve their Fifth Amendment claim for a later federal suit if the state suit proved unsuccessful. Id ., at 331–332, 125 S.Ct. 2491. When that happened, however, and the plaintiffs proceeded to federal court, they found that their federal claim was barred. This Court held that the full faith and credit statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1738, required the federal court to give preclusive effect to the state court's decision, blocking any subsequent consideration of whether the plaintiff had suffered a taking within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment. 545 U.S. at 347, 125 S.Ct. 2491. The adverse...

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