Supremes examining city’s decision to take woman’s private land

The Supreme Court has agreed to take a case in which a town has threatened to turn a woman’s private 90 acres into public property.

The justices said Monday they will hear arguments in the case Knick v. Scott Township, on which WND reported last year.

The Pennsylvania dispute developed when Scott Township officials abruptly adopted an ordinance that requires landowners to open their property to the public if there are claims that a historical gravesite exists on the land.

The 90 acres owned by Rose Mary Knick has been in her family for half a century, and someone claimed there was on old gravesite on the land.

No proof was necessary, according to the law, which requires that the landowner provide daily public access to the site.

Knick went to court, but the state courts said they won’t act because the township said Knick shouldn’t worry, because officials won’t enforce any requirement against her.

Federal courts said that by precedent they cannot act until state courts do.

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“Scott Township’s graveyard law forces property owners to allow warrantless searches by government and unbridled trespassing by the public,” said Pacific Legal FoundationSenior Attorney J. David Breemer.

The case puts the court into one of the thorniest areas of property rights.

Back in 2012, the township adopted an ordinance requiring owners of cemeteries to allow public access. Officials contend there’s a “cemetery” on Knick’s land.

State courts refused Knick’s plea for help because the town “had withdrawn its notice of violation and agreed not to enforce the law,” an analysis said. But the requirement still would exist and could be enforced at any point.

Federal courts then said a state adjudication was required before they could act.

Knick’s land is used for grazing for cattle, horses and other animals. It’s bounded by fences, stone walls and “No Trespassing” signs.

“There is no cemetery mentioned in the chain of title going back hundreds of years,” said Pacific Legal Foundation, which has won numerous property rights cases at the Supreme Court.

“Nevertheless, in 2013, a town enforcement officer entered the property searching for graveyards. Soon after, Ms. Knick was issued a notice of violation claiming her property contained an old burial ground that had not been kept open to the public. She later received a second notice of violation.”

Knick said: “It was unbelievable that the town would trample all over my rights this way, making it open season for trespassing on my land. I am very hopeful that the Supreme Court will take a stand for the Constitution, and for everybody’s property rights, by striking down this outrageous law.”

Isolated grave sites are not uncommon in parts of the country where there is no ban on burials on private ground. And, indeed, sometimes burials date back to before rules and regulations were in place. So the plains of Pennsylvania contain small burial plots for families.

However, the records don’t show any such location on Knick’s land, PLF said.

The township simply adopted procedures for its “code enforcement” agents to search her land without permission, and while trespassing, they claimed to have found stone evidence of burial plots.

The lower courts then decided the township had created a “right of way” for the public.

The demand for access to Knick’s land came after an anonymous “citizen inquiry” claimed there was a burial ground there.


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