Supreme Court Overturns Longstanding Property Takings Precedent

CHICAGO (June 21, 2019) — The American Planning Association (APA) is disappointed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today in Knick v. Township of Scott. The decision upends established precedent for addressing takings challenges and poses potential obstacles for important local land use decisions that benefit communities.

In a 5-4 decision that overturns the precedent set in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City (1985), the Court found that a property owner can file a takings claim in federal court without first pursuing state litigation. Today’s decision allows people who believe that a final decision constitutes a taking of their property to immediately file suit in either a state court or a federal court.

While the requirement that the challenged decision must be “final” will continue to have the positive effect of preventing certain types of premature takings claims (or causing such claims to be dismissed at an early stage), it will likely increase the number of garden-variety federal court challenges to the outcome of land-use decisions.

Writing for the minority, Justice Kagan stated that the decision to overrule Williamson County “transgresses all usual principles of stare decisis.” In its friend of the court brief, APA also urged the Supreme Court to follow stare decisis.

“APA urged the Supreme Court to ... decide the case based on existing legal principles, while at the same time clarifying those principles so as to curb their abuses,” said John Baker, chair of APA’s Amicus Curiae Committee. “Instead, by a single vote, the Supreme Court took a meat-ax approach, explicitly overturning a 7-1 decision from 1985 and trivializing language in the Court’s own decisions dating back over 125 years.”

Today’s decision introduces a number of practical challenges to land-use decisions for both property owners and governmental defendants. As APA stated in its amicus brief:

“State courts have little reluctance to invalidate the denial of a permit or other land-use application if the evidence demonstrates that the denial was unlawful, without the need to reach any constitutional questions. By contrast, the need for a substantial federal question often causes motion practice in federal court land-use lawsuits to address questions of federal law before questions of state law ...”

The Court’s decision in Knick will potentially draw out the judiciary process by unnecessarily steering takings claims away from the state courts and toward federal courts.

Said Baker, “We are concerned that the Knick decision will slow judicial consideration of both valid and invalid challenges to state and local land-use decisions.”

Paradoxically, today’s decision may make proper adjudication and redress for takings claims less likely and jeopardize thoughtful and fair decision making that implements local plans and visions for future development.

The potential for frivolous takings claims to clog federal courts and push local governments into undermining important protections for health, environment, safety, and quality of life for all residents is a real possibility after today’s decision.

The American Planning Association is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities. APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the art, science, and profession of good planning — physical, economic, and social — so as to create communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live. APA has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, with almost 40,000 members worldwide in nearly 100 countries. For more information, visit www.planning.org.

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Contact

Brenna Donegan, APA; 312-786-6386; bdonegan@planning.org


June 21, 2019