Utah joins fight arguing local land disputes should be heard in state court, not federal court


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A Pennsylvania land dispute has drawn the attention of 17 other states, including Utah, that contend local land issues are better decided in state courts, not federal courts.

The states are joining California in a friend of the court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a federal appeals court ruling that land use regulation and state property law cases should be heard in state courts before moving into the federal system.

Though California and Utah sometimes differ on the interpretation of the Constitution, this is an instance where they agree that such cases should go to state courts first, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said.

“Local self-governance, especially on land use issues, is an American principle of federalism we need to preserve,” he said in a statement.

The case involves 90 acres of private property that Scott Township maintains is subject to its cemetery ordinance, including upkeep and public access, because there are old tombstones on the land. The property owner alleges the law violates her civil rights.

The 17 states and District of Columbia want the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the appeals court ruling and the 1985 high court precedent prohibiting landowners from litigating takings claims in federal court until they have exhausted all avenues at the state level.

The states argue state courts are best situated to resolve complex local conflicts, especially when individual rights and community needs are at odds.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case during its next session.

Utah joined the California-led brief along with attorneys general from Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.

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