Not long ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a slew of decisions from its recent term, redefining its position on several issues including the census, immigration, and other hot button topics. Although less publicized, its decision Knick v. Township of Scott, was significant, overriding over 30 years’ of precedent on eminent domain law. In Knick, the Court explored whether an inverse condemnation claim made in federal court could be dismissed solely because of the failure of a plaintiff to pursue a claim in state court first. In issuing its decision, the Court completely changed course and held that plaintiffs no longer need to file a claim in state court before pursuing a federal claim. My initial takeaways on the decision are as follows:
- The decision does not limit the ability of local/state governments to pursue takings via eminent domain. The Knick court looked at the specific issue of an inverse condemnation claim. Claims for inverse condemnation arise when the government does not provide just compensation for land taken. Accordingly, the Knick decision should not prevent localities from moving forward with its projects.
- The decision appears to give landowners/developers more options when deciding whether to pursue a claim for inverse condemnation. Before Knick, landowners with a potential inverse condemnation claim needed to consider pursuing it via state court. Knick gives landowners an option of where to file – arguably a strategic decision based on their specific needs. Federal court provides different timelines for hearing trials. For example, the Eastern District of Virginia is known as the “rocket docket,” hearing trials within 1-year of filing – much quicker than many state courts. On the other side of the coin, state court oftentimes has less formalistic (and less expensive) processes that may be beneficial for other landowners.
- The overall impact will need to be monitored. How the courts will address two concurrent cases (i.e.: a regular claim made by the government and an inverse claim made in federal court) is yet to be seen. Further, how the Knick decision will impact existing eminent domain processes in states/localities (if at all) is unknown. The overall decision is a sudden change from decades of precedent and therefore I recommend monitoring state and local courts’ handling of the decision to understand truly where the chips will fall as a practical matter.
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Theodora Stringham assists individuals, businesses, and organizations with growing successfully while minimizing liability. Focusing on real estate and personnel needs, Ms. Stringham executes sustainable plans for real estate development and employee matters. She provides comprehensive representation for everyday growth issues, including, but not limited to, re-zonings, site plan approvals, eminent domain/valuation concerns, employment discrimination, and disciplinary issues. Ms. Stringham’s scope of representation ranges from identifying potential liability and providing counseling/trainings, all the way through representation at trial.
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