Supreme Court Rules Landowner Can Sue Over Gov’t Access

June 24, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that property owners can challenge government access to their land, which some view as a major victory for property rights.

The court’s ruling stemmed from a case involving a Pennsylvania woman, Rose Mary Knick, whose land the town of Scott Township used in 2013 to access an old burial ground. Knick didn't grant the town permission to come on her property, and she sought damages in court for what she viewed as an invasion of her privacy. Local rules, however, require property owners to allow access to private cemeteries discovered on their land.

Supreme Court justices ruled, in a 5-4 opinion, that the woman can now seek compensation in federal court. “A property owner has a claim for a violation of the Takings Clause as soon as government takes his property for public use without paying for it,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the ruling. “The property owner may sue the government at that time in federal court.”

The decision overturns a Supreme Court precedent on other cases that date back to the late 1800s, dissenting justices noted. “Today’s opinion smashed a hundred-plus years of legal rulings to smithereens,” Associate Justice Elena Kagan noted in the dissent.