The U.S. Supreme Court’s important decision in Knick v. Township of Scott, 2019 WL 2552486, on June 21 will increase the number and range of takings cases brought by property owners now that the court has bulldozed open the direct path to the federal courts. The 5-4 decision, written as some predicted by the chief justice, overrules the 34-year-old precedent in Williamson County Regional Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), and pulls no punches in doing so: “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. … Williamson County was not just wrong. Its reasoning was exceptionally ill founded and conflicted with much of our takings jurisprudence.”
Under Williamson County, takings plaintiffs have been subject to what has been pejoratively labeled the “ripeness shuffle,” and blocked from proceeding in federal court until the state courts have considered compensation. Effectively, this process has barred most claimants from ever having their day in federal court. Williamson County 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.”
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