Florida’s Bert J. Harris Act requires the government to compensate property owners when a regulation “inordinately burden[s]” private property rights. In this case, Partners in Excavation (P.I.E.) purchased a 50-acre site for $1.25 million for the purpose of excavating fill dirt to be used in their septic contracting work. The property was worth $3.3 million as an excavation site. After the DeSoto County Planning Department approved the site, P.I.E. spent another $250,000 to submit a complete excavation permit application to the county. County staff recommended approval but the county instead denied the permit application and two months later passed a law that forbade excavation on the site. Because the permit denial cost P.I.E. over $2 million in value, it sought compensation under the Harris Act.
In 1996, the Florida Legislature enacted the Bert J. Harris Act to provide a remedy to landowners unfairly affected by government regulation of their property. The law says, “When a specific action of a governmental entity has inordinately burdened an existing use of real property or a vested right to a specific use of real property, the property owner of that real property is entitled to relief, which may include compensation for the actual loss to the fair market value of the real property, caused by the action of government.”
P.I.E. worked with the county to select a proposed excavation site, and conducted all the necessary engineering and surveying studies necessary for a permit. The county staff confirmed that P.I.E. had done all that was necessary to obtain an excavation permit. But when neighbors complained, the county rejected the permit application, citing generalized concerns about the health, safety, and welfare of the community. Several weeks later, the county revised the excavation ordinance to ensure that P.I.E. could not resubmit its application; any proposal would be dead on arrival. The government’s actions diminished the value of the site by over $2 million.
PLF represents P.I.E. in its appeal of an adverse ruling in the trial court. We argue that the Harris Act requires that the property owner be compensated for its losses when the government improperly denies a permit and then re-writes the law to eliminate any opportunity for the owner to use the property as it intended and the law allowed. On February 7, 2018, the appellate court denied a rehearing and a written opinion.