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Knick v. Township of Scott

United States Supreme Court

June 21, 2019

ROSE MARY KNICK, PETITIONER
v.
TOWNSHIP OF SCOTT, PENNSYLVANIA, ET AL.

          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.

         Held:

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.

          OPINION

          ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE

         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 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 (1994) (quoting Patsy v. Board of Regents of Fla., 457 U.S. 496, 501 (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 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 (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] 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. __ (2018).

         II

         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. 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. 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. 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.

         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. 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. 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. The adverse state court decision that, according to Williamson County, gave rise to a ripe federal takings claim simultaneously barred that claim, preventing the federal court from ever considering it.

         The state-litigation requirement relegates the Takings Clause "to the status of a poor relation" among the provisions of the Bill of Rights. Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374, 392 (1994). Plaintiffs asserting any other constitutional claim are guaranteed a federal forum under §1983, but the state-litigation requirement "hand[s] authority over federal takings claims to state courts." San Remo, 545 U.S., at 350 (Rehnquist, C. J., concurring in judgment). Fidelity to the Takings Clause and our cases construing it requires overruling Williamson County and restoring takings claims to the full-fledged constitutional status the Framers envisioned when they included the Clause among the other protections in the Bill of Rights.

         III

         A

         Contrary to Williamson County, a property owner has a claim for a violation of the Takings Clause as soon as a government takes his property for public use without paying for it. The Clause provides: "[N]or shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." It does not say: "Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without an available procedure that will result in compensation." If a local government takes private property without paying for it, that government has violated the Fifth Amendment-just as the Takings Clause says-without regard to subsequent state court proceedings. And the property owner may sue the gov- ernment at that time in federal court for the "deprivation" of a right "secured by the Constitution." 42 U.S.C. §1983.

         We have long recognized that property owners may bring Fifth Amendment claims against the Federal Government as soon as their property has been taken. The Tucker Act, which provides the standard procedure for bringing such claims, gives the Court of Federal Claims jurisdiction to "render judgment upon any claim against the United States founded either upon the Constitution" or any federal law or contract for damages "in cases not sounding in tort." 28 U.S.C. §1491(a)(1). We have held that "[i]f there is a taking, the claim is 'founded upon the Constitution' and within the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims to hear and determine." United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256, 267 (1946). And we have explained that "the act of taking" is the "event which gives rise to the claim for compensation." United States v. Dow, 357 U.S. 17, 22 (1958).

         The Fifth Amendment right to full compensation arises at the time of the taking, regardless of post-taking remedies that may be available to the property owner. That principle was confirmed in Jacobs v. United States, 290 U.S. 13 (1933), where we held that a property owner found to have a valid takings claim is entitled to compensation as if it had been "paid contemporaneously with the taking"-that is, the compensation must generally consist of the total value of the property when taken, plus interest from that time. Id., at 17 (quoting Seaboard Air Line R. Co. v. United States, 261 U.S. 299, 306 (1923)). We rejected the view of the lower court that a property owner is entitled to interest only when the government provides a particular remedy-direct condemnation proceedings- and not when the owner brings a takings suit under the Tucker Act. "The form of the remedy d[oes] not qualify the right. It rest[s] upon the Fifth Amendment." 290 U.S., at 16.

         Jacobs made clear that, no matter what sort of procedures the government puts in place to remedy a taking, a property owner has a Fifth Amendment entitlement to compensation as soon as the government takes his property without paying for it. Whether the government does nothing, forcing the owner to bring a takings suit under the Tucker Act, or whether it provides the owner with a statutory compensation remedy by initiating direct condemnation proceedings, the owner's claim for compensation "rest[s] upon the Fifth Amendment."

         Although Jacobs concerned a taking by the Federal Government, the same reasoning applies to takings by the States. The availability of any particular compensation remedy, such as an inverse condemnation claim under state law, cannot infringe or restrict the property owner's federal constitutional claim-just as the existence of a state action for battery does not bar a Fourth Amendment claim of excessive force. The fact that the State has provided a property owner with a procedure that may subsequently result in just compensation cannot deprive the owner of his Fifth Amendment right to compensation under the Constitution, leaving only the state law right. And that is key because it is the existence of the Fifth Amendment right that allows the owner to proceed directly to federal court under §1983.

         Williamson County had a different view of how the Takings Clause works. According to Williamson County, a taking does not give rise to a federal constitutional right to just compensation at that time, but instead gives a right to a state law procedure that will eventually result in just compensation. As the Court put it, "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." 473 U.S., at 195. In the absence of a state remedy, the Fifth Amendment right to compensation would attach immediately. But, under Williamson County, the presence of a state remedy qualifies the right, preventing it from vesting until exhaustion of the state procedure. That is what Jacobs confirmed could not be done.

         Just two years after Williamson County, in First English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale v. County of Los Angeles,482 U.S. 304 (1987), the Court returned to the understanding that the Fifth Amendment right to compensation automatically arises at the time the government takes property without paying for it. Relying heavily on Jacobs and other Fifth Amendment precedents neglected by Williamson County, First English held that a property owner is entitled to compensation for the temporary loss of his property. We explained that "government action that works a taking of property rights necessarily implicates the 'constitutional obligation to pay just compensation.'" 482 U.S., at 315. Because of "the self-executing character" of the Takings Clause "with respect to compensation," a property owner has a constitutional claim for just compensation at the time of the taking. Ibid, (quoting 6 P. Nichols, Eminent Domain ยง25.41 (3d rev. ed. 1972)). The government's post-taking actions (there, repeal of the challenged ordinance) cannot nullify the property ...


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