GolfRock, LLC v. Lee County, Florida

Government stall tactics undermine constitutional takings doctrine

Cases > Property Rights > GolfRock, LLC v. Lee County, Florida
Lost: Appeals court rejected lawsuit over unclear ripeness claims.
Case Court: Florida Court of Appeal

GolfRock sought a permit to mine its land in Lee County in 2005. Several years of government stalling and five application supplements later, the County changed the rules—the local comprehensive plan—to preclude mining on GolfRock’s land. Even after banning mining on the property, the County refused to reach a final decision on GolfRock’s pending application. In 2013, after the County made it abundantly clear that it would not process the application, GolfRock filed a lawsuit for declaratory relief, asking a Florida trial court to declare GolfRock’s takings claim ripe. The trial court demanded one more application and GolfRock appealed, with PLF’s support as amicus curiae.

GolfRock initially sought a permit to mine limerock and later develop a piece of land in Lee County, Florida, in 2005.  After requiring five supplements to the application, passing a mining moratorium, and then changing the rules to forbid mining on GolfRock’s land, the County finally demanded that GolfRock withdraw its application eight years later. The County then asserted (and the lower court held) that GolfRock must file additional mining applications, under the new rules, and obtain a decision on those applications before it can claim that the County’s restrictions on mining result in a taking—even though the County’s regulations now explicitly and categorically bar GolfRock’s proposed mining activity.

On appeal, PLF argued as amicus curiae that the extent of the County’s mining restrictions became clear, and GolfRock’s claim became ripe, when  the County decided to outright ban limerock mining on GolfRock’s land, thereby removing all discretion to grant the desired mining permit. The court of appeal issued a baffling decision saying that it would not decide whether the claim was ripe, because the plaintiffs’ complaint failed to sufficiently allege that GolfRock was in doubt about whether their claim was ripe. GolfRock petitioned for rehearing and PLF hopes this decision is corrected, clarified, or overturned soon, because it is as baffling as it is bad for property owners.

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What’s at stake?

  • Government agencies should not be able to evade constitutional challenges by strategic stalling and refusal to issue a “final decision” on a permit application.
  • Property owners should not have to submit to a costly and pointless application process before they may judicially challenge land use regulations that clearly prohibit certain activities.

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