Supreme Court Overrules Requirement that Takings Claims be Filed in State Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that property owners with a claim that local or State government has taken their property without paying for it may now bring those claims in federal court. In Knick v. Scott Township, No. 17-647 (June 21, 2019), the high court overruled the holding in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985) that such takings claims must be brought in the State courts.

The Supreme Court in Knick said that because such cases are grounded in the Fifth Amendment of the federal Constitution, then, as with any other right in the Bill of Rights, a citizen may seek just compensation for a taking in federal court. Because claims for regulatory or physical takings against localities are often brought pursuant to the federal remedy law of 42 U.S.C. 1983, a citizen may now initiate a case in either federal or State court.

The high court ruled as it did in Knick because of the unintended consequence created 34 years ago by the Williamson County holding – namely, that if just compensation is denied in the courts of a State, a property owner cannot then seek a second venue in federal court to protect its federal right.

Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the 5-4 majority in Knick, noted that this legal doctrine of claim preclusion creates a “Catch-22” when it comes to the takings/just compensation clause of the Fifth Amendment. He wrote, “Takings claims against local governments should be handled the same as other claims under the Bill of Rights. Williamson County erred in holding otherwise.”

Gus Bauman was co-counsel for the property owner in Williamson County before the Supreme Court; the Court cited his law review article on takings law. He has successfully prosecuted takings claims and handles a wide range of land use issues.