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United States Supreme Court overturns Williamson County state court exhaustion requirement and permits property owners to initiate 5th Amendment takings claims in federal court

June 24, 2019

Knick v. Township of Scott, 588 U.S. ___ (June 21, 2019)

The Supreme Court overturned Williamson County Regional Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), which had impeded property owners from bringing takings claims under the Fifth Amendment in federal court.

Generally, a plaintiff need not exhaust state-law remedies before pursuing a claim in federal court arising under the federal constitution via 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Patsy v. Board of Regents, 457 U.S. 496, 501 (1982). Williamson County had created an exception to this rule for plaintiffs (typically property owners) asserting claims under the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment; they were required to exhaust all available state remedies. Compounding this problem, in San Remo Hotel, L. P. v. City and County of San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323 (2005), the Court held that a state court’s resolution of a claim for just compensation under state law generally has preclusive effect in any subsequent federal suit. This created a virtual Catch-22 for property owners: they could not sue in federal court in the first instance; but if they lost in state court, that result would preclude them from pursuing their federal claims in federal court. Under Williamson County and San Remo, those plaintiffs could never effectively assert a takings claim in federal court.

In Knick, the Court overruled the state-law exhaustion requirement in Williamson County and permitted plaintiffs asserting takings claims under the Fifth Amendment to proceed immediately to federal court without first bringing a state court action.

More Information

For more information, please contact Steven Fleischman and Peder K. Batalden .

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