Monday, June 24, 2019

US Supreme Court provides a Federal right to contest local government action affecting property rights. Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania - From the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES BLOG (SCOTUSblog)

Most failed to notice a Supreme Court decision published Friday, June 21, 2019: Knick v. Township of Scott, 588 U.S. _____ (2019).* The US Supreme Court expressly overruled the legal precedent of Williamson Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), extending Federal Civil Rights, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, to land use actions by local governments. 

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: Federal court litigation and rights under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 may provide much greater property rights to aggrieved land owners than the State remedies. My thanks to Palmetto Bay Council Member David Singer who does his research and stays abreast of developing issues and the law. Preparation is invaluable.

RELATED PRIOR POST: I invite readers to review my prior post of March 31, 2019, Update on DUV revisions. Reviewing attorneys' opinions and considering in light of transparency in the Village. Do these detailed legal opinions require updates in light of the Knick v. Township of Scott, US Supreme Court decision?

The "Ku Klux Klan Act": Section 1983 was enacted on April 20, 1871 as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. It is also known as the "Ku Klux Klan Act" as one of its primary purposes was to provide a civil remedy in Federal Court against the abuses that were being committed in the southern states, especially by the Ku Klux Klan. This action provides a Federal remedy to provide protection, the only remedy in some local areas, where laws may have existed to protect citizens in theory, but protection in practice was non-existent to some because those persons charged with the enforcement of the laws were unable or unwilling to do so. Section 1983 was intended to provide a private remedy for such violations of Federal law.

In land-use cases, the federal statute 42 U.S.C. § 1983 protects property owners against municipal actions that violate a property owner's constitutional rights, including actions that violate a property owner's rights to due process, equal protection of laws and just compensation for the taking of property under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Impact to bringing claims in Federal Court: Prior to last Friday (June 21, 2019), aggrieved property owners were expected to litigate state claims, such as inverse compensation claims, before they could take their federal property rights claims to federal courts.  The US Supreme Court rendered a 5-4 decision on Friday, June 21, 2019, that overturned this existing precedent and it will have major impact on property right litigation filed by property owners against local governments for ordinances that impact their property.  

It appears that under the Knick v. Township of Scott, 588 U.S. _____ (2019) decision, government regulation can be considered a "taking" within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment overruling a prior decision, the president set by a prior US Supreme Court in Williamson Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172 (1985)

Please note that the immediate information posted below is taken verbatim from the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES BLOG (SCOTUSblog):

Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania

Docket No.Op. BelowArgumentOpinionVoteAuthorTerm
17-6473d Cir.Jan 16, 2019
Jun 21, 20195-4RobertsOT 2018
Holding: A government violates the takings clause when it takes property without compensation, and a property owner may bring a Fifth Amendment claim under 42 U. S. C. §1983 at that time; the state-litigation requirement of Williamson County Regional Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, is overruled.
JudgmentVacated and remanded, 5-4, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts on June 21, 2019. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor joined.
SCOTUSblog Coverage

National Public Radio (NPR) and its report of this decision and potential impact: NPR - LAW - Supreme Court Overturns Precedent In Property Rights Case — A Sign Of Things To Come?, by Nina Totenberg, June 22, 2019:

As reported:
A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that property owners can go directly to federal court with claims that state and local regulations effectively deprive landowners of the use of their property.
The 5-4 decision overturned decades of precedent that barred property owners from going to federal court until their claims had been denied in state court.
Federal courts are often viewed as friendlier than state courts for such property claims. The decision, with all five of the court's conservatives in the majority, may have particular effects in cities and coastal areas that have strict regulations for development.
Property owners and developers often have complained that zoning rules and other state and local regulations effectively take their property for public benefit, and that the Constitution requires that they be paid just compensation.
          CLICK HERE to read the full NPR article

More to come on what, if any, impact this will have upon Palmetto Bay & Cutler Bay pending land use issues.

What is a taking? That can be an issue decided on a case by case basis, but let’s look at the simple facts of this case, now known as Knick v. Township of Scott, 588 U.S. _____ (2019). The property owner, Rose Knick, was contesting a local ordinance that forced her to allow public access to her private farmland due to the fact that her 90 acre outlying property has a family graveyard – a family, not a commercial public graveyard.

The Ordinance itself is simple. 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.” 
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.” Rose Mary Knick, the property owner of a 90-acre rural property with a small family graveyard, was notified that she was violating the ordinance. Ms. 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. 

What I find interesting is the fact that the Township responded by withdrawing the violation notice and staying enforcement of the ordinance. Without an ongoing enforcement action, the lower court held that Ms. Knick could not demonstrate the irreparable harm necessary for equitable relief, so it declined to rule on her request. 

Ms. Knick also 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. 

Decided on Friday, June 21, 2019, reported as Knick v. Township of Scott, 588 U.S. _____ (2019) No. 17–647. Argued October 3, 2018—Reargued January 16, 2019 CLICK HERE to view the official published opinion.
* As listed in the Opinion Syllabus; 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 GINSBURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. 

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