Won: Supreme Court ended a government extortion scheme.

The late Coy Koontz, Sr., sought to develop some vacant, commercially zoned land that he owned, immediately south of State Road 50 and east of State Road 408, in Orange County, Florida. But the St. John’s River Water Management District refused to issue any of the necessary permits, because Koontz would not agree to costly and unjustified conditions that the District imposed as the price of getting a permit. Officially, most of the 3.7 acres that Mr. Koontz sought to develop lay within a habitat protection zone, and was classified as wetlands subject to District jurisdiction.

But as a practical matter, the property was unfit for animal habitat because of development on adjacent land owned by others, including government land. Nevertheless, Mr. Koontz offered to mitigate for the proposed disturbance of wetlands by dedicating 11 acres of his own land in the vicinity (nearly 80 percent of his property in the area) to the state for conservation. The District was not satisfied with this offer and it demanded that Mr. Koontz replace culverts and plug ditches on some of the District’s property located up to seven miles away. Cost estimates for the off-site work ranged from $10,000 (the District’s estimate) to between $90,000 and $150,000 (Koontz’s expert’s estimate). Koontz refused the District’s unreasonable demand. Because of his refusal to comply, the District denied his permit applications outright.

Years of litigation followed. The trial and appellate courts ruled in favor of Koontz, holding that the agency had violated rights guaranteed by the Takings Clause. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed and PLF took over representation of Koontz in the U.S. Supreme Court.

What’s At Stake?

  • Government agencies cannot demand money in exchange for a permit when that money isn’t being used to take care of a harm caused by the development of the property.
  • Because the off-site improvement of 50 acres of wetlands on government lands was not related in nature or extent to the alleged impact of Mr. Koontz’s proposed development on little more than three acres of his own property, the permit condition violated the unconstitutional conditions doctrine of Nollan and Dolan.

Case Timeline

June 25, 2013
Supreme Court of the United States
November 01, 2012
Brief on the Merits
Supreme Court of the United States
June 01, 2012
Petition for Writ of Certiorari
Supreme Court of the United States