July 27, 2018

Cato and NFIB urge the Supreme Court to review Florida property rights decision

By Christina M. Martin Attorney
The Johnson Family (Photo by Jordan Clancy, as printed in Floridian View Magazine)

This week, our friends at the Cato Institute and NFIB Small Business Legal Center filed an excellent friend-of-the-court-brief supporting our clients in Pacetta, LLC v. Town of Ponce Inlet.  The case arose after Simone and Lyder Johnson set out to build their dream home in Ponce Inlet, Florida.  After the Town encouraged them to plan something more complex, the couple spent several years working with the Town to plan a beautiful development that included a public pier and long public Riverwalk as well as some residential and commercial development. They gave the Town everything it wanted. But after the Johnsons had poured millions of dollars and years of work into the project, the Town officials changed their minds and passed more land use restrictions on the land. They made sure the development would be illegal. They also increased the regulatory burden and intentionally devalued the land, so that the Town could buy it later at a discount.

The Johnsons filed a constitutional takings claim on behalf of their company Pacetta, LLC, in state court and initially won. But after eight years of litigation, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed and held that the Johnsons might have filed their claim too soon.  We are asking the United States Supreme Court to review this case and bring justice to the Johnsons.

In their brief supporting our clients, Cato and NFIB artfully explain why the Supreme Court should hear this case to clarify and correct takings law. They also conclude,

Any suggestion that [the Johnsons] should make additional futile and costly attempts before vindicating their constitutional rights is offensive to the Fifth Amendment. . . .The Fifth Amendment’s promise that ‘private property shall not be taken for public use, without just compensation’ prevents Ponce Inlet, or any other government entity, from intentionally setting out to devalue and acquire private property without paying for the privilege

Read the rest of their brief here.

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Pacetta, LLC v. The Town of Ponce Inlet

Urged by the Town of Ponce Inlet, Florida, Lyder and Simone Johnson bought a number of land parcels and planned a new development through their business, Pacetta, LLC. Town leaders wanted the development so badly, they began revamping the town’s comprehensive land use plan, which would not have allowed the project at the time. But after an election, the town’s political winds shifted and new leadership prohibited the development. The Johnsons sued and won a $30 million jury award for the town’s unconstitutional property takings, only to have an appeals court strip the verdict—and award. On behalf of the Johnsons, PLF has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review and reverse the appeals court decision.

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