Important Property Rights Case Pending Before SCOTUS

The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) starts its fall session with a long list of cases to consider. One case, with an odd set of facts, is attempting to overturn a long-standing decision concerning when a government action restricting an owner’s use of real property results in a taking.

Under a 1975 decision (known generally as the Williamson case), SCOTUS held that property owners must take their federal property rights claims to state courts before bothering with federal courts. In most situations, this resulted in a back and forth between cities action and state court decisions that kept property owners in limbo for years.

Along comes Rose Knick who owns a 90-acre farm tract in rural Scott Township, Pennsylvania.  According to the Pacific Legal Foundation that is pursuing the case on Ms. Knick’s behalf, “Scott Township officials enacted a so-called graveyard law and forced Rose to allow unrestricted public access across her private property to visit a suspected gravesite.” The strange fact, in this case, is that the city cannot offer any evidence that a gravesite actually exists on the property.

Ms. Knick filed a federal case claiming the action by the city was an unconstitutional property taking. The federal court dismissed her case citing the Williamson case.  She then asked the Supreme Court to review and overturn Williamson.

SCOTUS granted review of Ms. Knick’s case in March, and Pacific Legal Foundation argued her case on October 3, 2018.  If Ms. Knick wins and the Williamson case is overturned, property owners impacted by local land use planning decisions will be able to take their cases directly to federal court.

MHI will continue to follow this case and update the industry when the decision is released.  For further information, contact MHI General Counsel Rick Robinson at [email protected]



Rick Robinson is General Counsel and Senior Vice President for the Manufactured Housing Institute.

To sign up for MHI’s free Fair Housing Update, drop Robinson an email at [email protected].

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