Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania

Supreme Court affirms that property rights are among Americans' most important constitutional rights.

Cases > Supreme Court Cases > Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania
Case Status: Won: U.S. Supreme Court opens federal courts to victims of government property takings

In 2013, government agents forced Rose Knick to allow public access to a suspected gravesite on her farmland. Rose sued over the unconstitutional property taking. But a federal court refused to hear her federal claim citing the 1985 Supreme Court decision Williamson County. Rose has asked the Court to overturn this precedent so property rights are on equal footing with other rights such as due process and free speech. In a major ruling announced on June 21,2019, the Supreme Court agreed with Rose that federal courts cannot turn away takings cases like hers, because property rights are just as important as all other rights protected by the Constitution.

Supreme Court Transcript

Supreme Court Oral Argument Audio

Hundreds of years of property records find no gravesites on Rose Mary Knick’s 90-acre farm in Scott Township, Pennsylvania—a rural area on the eastern side of the state. Rose lives alone on the property, which has been in her family since 1970. Other than farming activity she allows in her fields, Rose treasures the peace and quiet she finds nowhere else.

Lack of evidence notwithstanding, Scott Township officials enacted a so-called graveyard law in 2013, and forced Rose to allow unrestricted public access across her private property to visit a suspected gravesite.

Rose sued over the unconstitutional property taking. But a federal court refused to hear her federal claim, citing Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank. This 1985 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court said property owners must take their federal property rights claims to state courts before bothering with federal courts.

Williamson County gave property rights second-class status, that is, the only rights guaranteed by the Constitution not directly enforceable by federal courts.

Rose has asked the Supreme Court to review and overturn this procedural justice-buster and put property rights on equal footing with other rights such as due process and free speech.

Pacific Legal Foundation argued Knick before the Supreme Court on October 3, 2018, and again on January 16, 2019, after the High Court ordered a reargument.

On June 21, 2019, the Supreme Court agreed with Rose in a 5 to 4 decision that property rights protected under the Fifth Amendment have just as much clout as the rights protected in the rest of the Constitution. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “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.”

The decision means that after 34 years, Rose and all American property owners can fight in federal courts to get quicker and more certain justice when their property is taken.

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What’s at stake?

  • Federal courts need to stop treating property rights as “second-class” rights and allow property owners to defend their constitutional rights in federal court—just like every other constitutional right.

Case Timeline

Supreme Court Decision

June 21, 2019 Download

Reply Merits Brief

August 24, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - AARP and AARP Fdn

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - American Farm Bureau Federation

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - American Planning Association

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - Cato Institute, NFIB Small Business Legal Center, Southeastern Legal Fdn, Beacon Center of TN, Reason Fdn, Prof Ilya Somin

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - Citizen's Alliance for Property Rights and Inverse Condemnation

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - Institute for Justice, Owners Counsel of America, Professor Mandelker

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - Justice and Freedom Fund

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - National Association of Homebuilders

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - New England Legal Foundation

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - Ohio Farm Bureau Federation

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - San Remo Hotel and Thomas Field, Robert Field, Franklin Kottschade, Peyman Pakdel, and Sima Chegini

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - Texas and Oklahoma

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - US Congressmen Steve King and Kevin Cramer

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - United States of America

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - Washington Legal Foundation and Allied Educational Fdn

June 12, 2018 Download

Knick - AC Brief - Western Manufactured Housing Communities

June 12, 2018 Download

Merits Brief

May 29, 2018 Download

Petition for Writ of Certiorari

August 31, 2017 Download

Third Circuit Opinion

July 06, 2017 Download

Opinion re Motion to Dismiss

September 08, 2016 Download

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