Knick vs. Scott Township

A case was ruled on by the Supreme Court last month has implications for the real estate industry regarding matters of property/land seizure by government and the removal of limitations on how court filings must be initiated by a plaintiff.

A resident of Scott Township in Pennsylvania, Rose Mary Knick, is the property owner of a farmstead that includes a section designated for the burial of decedents in the area. An ordinance was passed by the Township requiring any cemetery to be open and accessible for the public during daylight hours. According to the ordinance, landowners are to adhere to prescriptive easement by allowing code enforcement officers to enter the property to confirm the existence of the cemetery. Upon confirmation, the enforcement officer cited Ms. Knick for violating the ordinance.

Ms. Knick filed a lawsuit in state court for declaratory and injunctive relief as she believed the ordinance fit the definition of a property seizure; however, there was no action filed to recover monetary losses or compensation. After the Township suspended the violation notice and agreed to stay any enforcement of the ordinance during the lawsuit, the state court failed to rule on the request for ‘relief’ due to no ongoing enforcement action.

Ms. Knick then went to Federal court, where the case was kicked back because she had not pursued action in state court.

Finally, the Supreme Court found a property owner has a claim for a violation of the ‘Takings Clause’ when the government takes property without paying for it. The Court also cited that a Plaintiff landowner does not first have to pursue a lawsuit in state court to recover compensation.

There are a couple of highlights from this case: one, owners can utilize the state and federal court systems in government land seizure cases and will not have to seek monetary damages initially when pursuing a lawsuit.

Blog by M.A. Williams 6/25/19