Scott Township, Pennsylvania; March 5, 2018: The U.S. Supreme Court today announced it will take up Pacific Legal Foundation’s challenge over a “graveyard law” in Pennsylvania—and clarify whether the federal courts are obliged to protect property owners from violations of their constitutional rights, in the same way they protect other citizens. This is PLF’s third case accepted by the High Court this term.
PLF represents Rose Mary Knick, a single woman living on her 90-acre farm in rural eastern Pennsylvania’s Scott Township. After hearing rumors that Ms. Knick’s property might contain an old burial site, the Township enacted an ordinance allowing both government inspectors and the general public to enter any property that contains a gravesite of any size, whether it is a private site or not. Township officials soon trespassed on Knick’s land and said they had found a few stones that marked a purported gravesite. The Township then ordered Ms. Knick to allow people to cross her land—seven days a week—or face hundreds of dollars in fines per day.
“The records for my property go back hundreds of years, and there’s absolutely no evidence of a burial site,” said Ms. Knick. “Regardless, if I don’t let people onto my property whenever they want to see some rocks, I’m punished. I hope the Supreme Court puts an end to this nonsense—not just for me, but for all Americans.”
The ordinance violates Ms. Knick’s constitutionally protected property rights under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, which requires just compensation for property owners before the government occupies private land. But a federal district court refused to hear the case, citing a 33-year-old Supreme Court precedent known as Williamson County that insists Ms. Knick must first exhaust all legal options at the state level before going to federal court. This oft-used precedent simply shuffles victims around between different courts, wasting time and money, often to no avail.
In granting PLF’s petition, the Supreme Court agreed to review this procedural justice-buster. A ruling in favor of our client will allow her—and landowners nationwide—to seek the swiftest relief from unconstitutional government intrusion.
“Federal courts must be open for the protection of all constitutional rights, especially when government gives a pass to the general public to enter your property at any time, seven days a week, to view a couple of stones—in our case, to literally chase ghosts,” said PLF Senior Attorney J. David Breemer. “We’re thrilled the Supreme Court sees the value our case brings to defending fundamental property rights.”
Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is the nation’s leading public interest legal organization devoted to preserving individual rights and economic freedom. Since 1973, donor-supported PLF has successfully litigated for limited government, private property rights, and free enterprise in the nation’s highest courts.
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