St. Johns River Water Management District v. Koontz

There’s no “off site” exception to Fifth Amendment’s takings clause

Cases > Supreme Court Cases > St. Johns River Water Management District v. Koontz
Case Status: Won: Compensation paid to Koontz

Coy A. Koontz sought to develop commercial land, most of which lies within a riparian habitat protection zone in Orange County, Florida. He applied for a dredge and fill permit with the St. Johns Water Management District, which  agreed to grant the permit only on the condition that he place a conservation easement over his land, and perform mitigation off-site by replacing culverts and plugging certain drainage canals on distant District-owned properties. When Koontz refused to perform the off-site mitigation, St. Johns denied the permit. PLF successfully represented Koontz before the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that a land-use agency cannot condition a permit on the payment of a mitigation fee to be used to pay for facilities that have no connection to the impacts of the permitted development.

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.

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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

St. Johns River Water Management District v. Koontz Documents 7-7-14

July 07, 2014 Download

St. Johns River Water Management District v. Koontz Documents 6-9-14

June 09, 2014 Download

St. Johns River Water Management District v. Koontz Documents 4-30-14

April 30, 2014 Download

St. Johns River Water Management District v. Koontz Documents 6-25-13

June 25, 2013 Download

St. Johns River Water Management District v. Koontz Documents 1-1-13

January 01, 2013 Download

St. Johns River Water Management District v. Koontz Documents 11-1-12

November 01, 2012 Download

St. Johns River Water Management District v. Koontz Documents 6-1-12

June 01, 2012 Download

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