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When the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, major changes occurred in the legal world when it came to eminent domain actions. Now, SCOTUS has another eminent domain case before it, though this case focuses on a procedural issue rather than a substantive issue of law.
SCOTUS heard oral arguments in Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania in October 2018, though the parties reargued the case on January 16, 2019. Legal experts believe that the eight-member Court in October may have deadlocked, so they heard oral arguments again now that Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the Court to avoid a tied ruling.
The plaintiff in the case, Rose Mary Knick, owned 90 acres of land in Scott Township since 1970. About 10 years ago, a neighbor claimed that there was a cemetery within Knick’s property where the neighbor’s relative was buried. The neighbor wanted access to her land to find the cemetery, and a dispute arose. A few years later, in 2012, the Township passed a new ordinance regarding cemeteries, mandating that cemeteries must be publicly accessible during daylight and by a right-of-way from the closest public road.
Soon after, a town official entered Knick’s property without asking and found some stones they declared were the cemetery in question. The town then claimed that Knick failed to comply with the new ordinance regarding cemeteries and filed multiple complaints against her.
Knick could not file a claim in Pennsylvania court because the Township had not officially filed an enforcement action against her. However, she believed the town was taking over part of her land without providing compensation, so she tried to appeal to the federal U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. SCOTUS previously held that a property owner must exhaust all local and state remedies before petitioning the federal court, so the District Court dismissed her case.
After a dismissal from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Knick petitioned SCOTUS. She claimed the ordinance was unconstitutional on its face, which is a different issue than most standard eminent domain cases. With Circuit Courts split on whether to hear such cases without a plaintiff exhausting state remedies, SCOTUS agreed to hear the case.
Now, we wait for the decision in Knick. If SCOTUS finds in Knick’s favor, landowners can more easily challenge laws that constitute takings without having to first spend months—or longer—in state court.
At the law firm of Sever Storey, our condemnation lawyers know that the procedures and laws surrounding eminent domain cases are never simple. We stay on top of new developments and changes in the law to best represent our landowner clients. If you would like to schedule a free consultation, call (888) 318-3761 or contact us online. We serve clients on a national basis and have offices in Springfield, Illinois; Carmel, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Dublin, Ohio; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
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