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Connecticut Case Paves Way for Landmark Property Rights Case

The Supreme Court in Knick v. Township of Scott Pennsylvania, No. 17-647, U.S. (2019) rectifies over 30 years of adverse outcomes in overturning Williamson Cty. Reg’l Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172 (1985). In doing so, it stands on the shoulders of a case in which Updike Kelly & Spellacy represented the plaintiff in 2016, Arrigoni Enterprises, LLC v. Durham, 578 U.S. (2016)  (Thomas, J., joined by Kennedy, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari).

Rose Mary Knick, a 69 year old retiree in rural Scott Township, Pennsylvania is an unlikely hero in this longstanding battle of property rights law which has sought to right the wrong established by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Williamson. Ms. Knick’s success is the culmination of countless cases and litigants who have suffered under a doctrine which the Court in its ruling describes as “not just wrong” but “exceptionally ill-founded.”

The Williamson doctrine made it next to impossible for private landowners to bring inverse condemnation and regulatory takings claims. Under Williamson in order to obtain “just compensation” for government actions that take property or deprive property of value, a plaintiff must first exhaust state administrative and judicial remedies before filing a claim in federal court. Once such claims were finally brought to federal court, however, they were routinely dismissed as the state court’s judgment was awarded ‘full faith and credit’ and the plaintiff was thus precluded from further pursuing the claim in federal court. The legacy of the Williamson doctrine has been to wholly deprive plaintiffs from bringing any Fifth Amendment takings claims in federal court.

Over the years, countless plaintiffs’ federal takings claims have been dismissed, with the courts describing their adherence to the Williamson doctrine as “odd” and “unfortunate”, as presenting a “Catch-22 for takings plaintiffs,” as relegating plaintiffs’ federal takings claims to “second-class status” and with plaintiffs having to endure “procedural purgatory” on the way to a “procedural hell.” This new ruling at long last overturns Williamson.

Updike Kelly & Spellacy proudly represented one of the giants in this saga, the shoulders upon which the Supreme Court ruling sits, in the matter of Arrigoni Enterprises, LLC v Town of Durham, 578 U.S. (2016) (Thomas, J.  joined by Kennedy, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari). Attorney Richard Carella represented Arrigoni for years in administrative proceedings, and before both state and federal trial courts, asserting Arrigoni’s taking claims of inverse condemnation. The decisions from those courts adhered to the Williamson doctrine and repeatedly deprived Arrigoni from asserting its Fifth Amendment takings claims. The repeated denial of Arrigoni’s claims, culminated Updike Kelly & Spellacy partnering with the Pacific Legal Foundation in filing a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court in 2015. Justice Thomas authored an eight page dissent from the denial of certiorari in which he outlined in detail the shortcomings of adherence to the Williamson doctrine. Justice Thomas’ dissent in 2016 described the “quagmire that the Court has created in the lower courts” and pronounced Williamson as “ahistoric, atextual, and anomalous.”  His dissent in 2016 paved the way for the Court overturning Williamson. Arrigoni’s willingness to fight for its property rights, with the leadership of the attorneys at Updike Kelly & Spellacy and the Pacific Law Foundation, set the stage for the Supreme Court finally overturning this “mistaken view of the Fifth Amendment.”