Bar Exams in the Pandemic JURIST Digital Scholars
US Supreme Court allows property owners to file takings claims directly in federal court
JerzyGorecki / Pixabay
US Supreme Court allows property owners to file takings claims directly in federal court

The US Supreme Court ruled on Friday that property owners who have had their property taken by state or local governments may file a Fifth Amendment takings claim in federal court without having to first exhaust remedies in state court. The Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause requires that the government provide “just compensation” when taking private property.

Chief Justice Roberts penned the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision. At issue in Knick v. Township of Scott was whether petitioner Rose Mary Knick was required to use up state court remedies prior to filing a Fifth Amendment takings claim in federal court. The majority opinion reasoned that a local takings claim “is complete at the time of the taking, [and] pursuit of a remedy in federal court need not await any subsequent state action.”

The decision overturned Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank, which previously held that property owners could not bring a takings claim against a local government in federal court unless a state court had previously denied them just compensation.

Roberts noted that all other claims under the Bill of Rights may be brought this way, and thus the Williamson County court erred in holding otherwise.

Justice Elena Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Kagan argued that by providing that a takings claim exists “at the time of the taking” rather than after failure of the state to provide just compensation, the majority inverted existing takings law by seeming to require just compensation in advance of the taking. Rather than overturn precedent and contravene the doctrine of stare decisis, Kagan would have left any significant change in takings law to the legislature.