Press Release

U.S. Supreme Court is asked to review ‘graveyard law’ that allows government trespassing

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.

About Pacific Legal Foundation
PLF litigates nationwide to secure all Americans’ inalienable rights to live responsibly and productively in their pursuit of happiness. PLF combines strategic and principled litigation, communications, and research to achieve landmark court victories enforcing the Constitution’s guarantee of individual liberty.

Case Attorneys

J. David Breemer

Senior Attorney

David (Dave) Breemer developed a passion for liberty while reading classics such as John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government and Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, as he pursued a … ›

View profile

Brian T. Hodges

Senior Attorney

Brian Hodges is a Senior Attorney at PLF’s Pacific Northwest office in Bellevue, Washington. Brian focuses his practice on defending of the right of individuals to make reasonable use of … ›

View profile

Christina M. Martin

Attorney

Christina Martin is an attorney at PLF’s Florida office in Palm Beach Gardens. She litigates cases around the country to protect individual rights, property rights, and the rule of law.  … ›

View profile

Meriem L. Hubbard

Senior Attorney

Meriem Hubbard has been an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation since January 2000.  She litigates cases involving property rights, public finance issues, and preferences in government hiring, contracting, and education. … ›

View profile

Case Commentary

See all posts
Post

By Christina M. Martin

Rose Knick’s historic Constitutional case to be reargued

Rose Knick thought the pinnacle of her case would be on October 3, 2018, when eight Supreme Court justices spent an hour hearing legal arguments arising from her attempt to … ›

Read more
Post

By James S. Burling

Weekly litigation report — November 2, 2018

Knick to be reargued The court has ordered Knick v. Scott Township for reargument. In this order the Court has asked Ms. Knick to file a supplemental briefs by the end … ›

Read more
Post

By James S. Burling

Weekly litigation update — September 29, 2018

PLF attorney gives congressional testimony on ESA reform This week, PLF attorney Jonathan Wood testified before the House Natural Resource Committee, urging Congress to improve the Endangered Species Act to … ›

Read more