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Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania, 139 S.Ct. 2162 (2019)

In Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), the Supreme Court created a lose/lose situation for property owners. It ruled that certain Fifth Amendment takings claims against a state must be brought in state court before the property owner may sue in federal court. But, in practice, the federal cases got dismissed because of the prior state suit. In 2018 the Supreme Court agreed to re-consider this disastrous rule. NELF filed an amicus brief supporting the petitioner, whose Fifth Amendment claim was dismissed from the lower federal court. Describing the 1985 decision as “ill supported and badly reasoned,” NELF argued that the Court had assumed that a state’s refusal to pay just compensation when it takes culminates only when a state court denies a money damages remedy to the aggrieved owner. But these two forms of compensation are mutually exclusive alternatives; a state court’s effort to resolve a claim plays no part in ripening the claim for federal litigation. In a major victory for property owners, the Supreme Court overturned the rule. Calling it a “Catch-22,” the Court rejected it for some of the reasons NELF identified, and concluded, in words echoing NELF’s own, “Williamson County was not just wrong. Its reasoning was exceptionally ill founded and conflicted with much of our takings jurisprudence.”

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