Scott Township, Pennsylvania; October 31, 2017: Agents for this East Pennsylvania town came onto Rose Mary Knick’s property several years ago without asking her permission or obtaining a warrant of any kind. Their purpose? To search for old burial sites. When they claimed to have found one, the town issued her a citation for not allowing the public to visit her property.
Now, she is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her constitutional challenge to the town’s “graveyard law” that purports to permit such trespassing. The ordinance says town inspectors may intrude on anyone’s land in search of old cemeteries, and any property where a cemetery has been found must be open to the public. Property owners who fail to comply are subject to hundreds of dollars per day in fines.
In asking the High Court to accept her case and affirm her fundamental property rights, Ms. Knick is represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation.
“Scott Township’s graveyard law forces property owners to allow warrantless searches by government and unbridled trespassing by the public,” said PLF Senior Attorney J. David Breemer. “The Supreme Court should take Ms. Knick’s case to make sure the Township does not get away with its flagrant abridgement of constitutionally protected rights.”
Ms. Knick lives on an approximately 90-acre parcel including a farm and grazing for cattle, horses, and other animals. It is bounded by fences, stone walls, and “No Trespassing” signs. There is no cemetery mentioned in the chain of title going back hundreds of years.
Nevertheless, in 2013, a town enforcement officer entered the property searching for graveyards. Soon after, Ms. Knick was issued a notice of violation claiming her property contained an old burial ground that had not been kept open to the public. She later received a second notice of violation.
“It was unbelievable that the town would trample all over my rights this way, making it open season for trespassing on my land,” said Ms. Knick. “I am very hopeful that the
Supreme Court will take a stand for the Constitution, and for everybody’s property rights, by striking down this outrageous law.”
Beyond the challenge to officially perpetrated trespassing, the case also addresses a procedural question that affects the rights of landowners nationwide: When government violates property rights, may victims sue directly in federal court, or must they go to state courts first? “Federal courts must be open for the protection of all constitutional rights,” said Breemer.
“Pacific Legal Foundation fights for individual liberty, a core component of which is protection from unconstitutional government intrusion on one’s property and privacy,” said PLF President and CEO Steven D. Anderson. “Defending property rights also means insisting that landowners who have suffered constitutional wrongs have direct access to federal court for redress. Securing these protections requires determination and vigilance, and we look forward to vindicating these vital principles.”
The case is Knick v. Scott Township. More information can be found at: pacificlegal.org/knick.
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Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 11 victories out of 13 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.