The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided a case that may impact a government’s ability to take privately held Rhode Island property without compensation. The issue before the Court was whether property owners are required to seek compensation in state court before filing a claim against the federal government.
According to the Court’s opinion, in 2012, a town in Pennsylvania passed a law that required that “[a]ll cemeteries . . . be kept open and accessible to the general public during daylight hours.” The plaintiff had a small family graveyard on her property. In 2013, the city told her that she was violating the law passed by the town by failing to open the cemetery to the public during the day. The plaintiff brought suit against the town, arguing that the law amounted to a “taking” of her property.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states in part, “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” This clause is known as the Takings Clause. The U.S. Supreme Court previously held, in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, that property owners must seek just compensation in state court before filing a takings claim under federal law. Under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, individuals can bring claims against the government for civil rights violations.
In this decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the requirement to seek just compensation under state law. The Court held that the government violates the Takings Clause if it takes property without compensation, and if the government violates the Takings Clause, a property owner can then bring a claim under section 1983. The Court explained that its previous decision was not well reasoned, and conflicted with the Court’s other decisions.
The Court reasoned that its previous decision effectively barred plaintiffs from filing their claims in federal court because plaintiffs would have to resolve their claims at the state level, and would not be able to bring their claims in federal court. The court explained that section 1983 allows people to bring claims in federal court, and that section 1983 does not require the exhaustion of state remedies. The Court held that the requirement placed an unjust burden on plaintiffs, and that a property owner obtains the right to compensation as soon as the government takes property without compensation, because to do so is a violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Court also explained that as long as a property owner has a way to obtain compensation after the taking, the government should not worry that it will be stopped from acting.
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