This monkey got his day in court. Property owners still can’t.
A bit of background is necessary.
The photo went viral and wound up on the Wikimedia Commons website, which had designated it as a public domain image. Slater objected that he owned the copyright, but Wikimedia refused to remove the image reasoning that because the monkey was the photographer, the photo could not be copyrighted.
Just as that dispute drew to a final stalemate, PETA decided to sue Slater on behalf of Naruto for publishing a photography book that included the monkey selfie. PETA asked the court to recognize the monkey’s rights in the photo (and to appoint PETA to administer all proceeds from the photograph to advance its activities). A trial court dismissed the monkey’s case, and PETA appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Although the Ninth Circuit ultimately dismissed Naruto’s lawsuit, the court held that Naruto did have standing to sue humans for damages.
Although a monkey has access to the federal courts, a property owner often does not. That is because property rights are the only rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution that are not directly enforceable by federal courts. This is the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1985 decision in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank. There, the Court concluded that a property owner alleging that a state entity took his property must first seek just compensation in state courts before his federal constitutional claim will “ripen,” thus being ready for review by federal courts.
This was supposed to ensure that takings claims are properly set up for federal judicial review. But experience has shown that this process “all but guarantees that claimants will be unable to utilize the federal courts to enforce the Fifth Amendment’s just compensation guarantee.”
Worse still, in some jurisdictions, filing a Fifth Amendment takings claim in a state court allows the defendant (the state) to remove the case to federal court only to have it immediately dismissed as unripe. In those jurisdictions, the property owner is denied access to both federal and state court leaving him with no remedy for a constitutional violation.
As Robert Thomas notes in his amicus brief, “although the law may not be an ass, it seems it might be a monkey.”
Thankfully, the Court has agreed to reconsider the state litigation requirement when it hears arguments in Knick v. Scott Township on October 3, 2018.
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Knick v. Scott Township Pennsylvania
Rose Knick owns a quiet, 90-acre, stone-fenced farm in rural eastern Pennsylvania. But the local town government claims that her property might have an old burial ground. According to a local ordinance, that means she must allow unrestricted public access to her private property. In other words, anyone can invade Ms. Knick’s property any time of day to visit a few stones the Township claims may mark an old gravesite.
Ms. Knick tried to challenge this violation of her constitutionally protected property rights in state and federal courts, who claimed they could not hear her suit, effectively shutting the doors to justice. PLF argues that property owners are entitled to their day in federal courts when governments violate their federal rights without paying for it. The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear Rose’s case later this year.Read more
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