The Supreme Court held that a property owner has an actionable Fifth Amendment takings claim after a landowner brought a Section 1983 action against the Township of Scott alleging that an ordinance authorizing officials to enter upon any property within the township to determine the existence and location of a cemetery violated the owner’s Constitutional rights. The township’s ordinance required all cemeteries be kept open and accessible to the general public during daylight hours. Knick owned a rural 90-acre property with a small family graveyard and was notified that she was in violation of the ordinance. Knick sought declaratory and injunctive relief in state court on the grounds that the ordinance was a taking of her property but she did not bring an inverse condemnation action under state law seeking compensation. The township responded by withdrawing the violation notice and stating enforcement of the ordinance. As a result, the state trial court held that Knick could not demonstrate irreparable harm for equitable relief.
Knick responded by filing an action under Section 1983 in federal court. The district court dismissed Knick’s claim under a prior Supreme Court ruling which held that property owners must seek just compensation under state law in state court before bringing a federal takings claim under Section 1983. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed and Knick appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that the government violates the Takings Clause when it takes property without compensation and a property owner may bring a Fifth Amendment claim under Section 1983 at that time. The Court held that a property owner acquires a right to compensation “immediately upon an uncompensated taking because the taking itself violates the Fifth Amendment.” The Court overruled its previous decision that a state-litigation requirement was necessary because it was unworkable in practice and there were no reliance interests on the state-litigation requirement.