Koontz oral argument: Pacific Legal Foundation's legacy of Supreme Court success
Post coauthored by Lana Harfoush, Christina Martin and Jonathan Wood
The countdown is over! Today Paul J. Beard II argued Pacific Legal Foundation’s Koontz case before the United States Supreme Court. Koontz is a monumental case for PLF and property owners nationwide, but it’s far from PLF’s first visit to the country’s highest court. In the past 40 years, PLF has defended the principles of limited government by representing clients before the Supreme Court and filing hundreds of briefs as a friend of the Court. Today we reflect on those victories.
PLF represented an Idaho couple that wanted to build their dream home near Priest Lake, but were prevented from doing so when the EPA threatened them with ruinous fines for “filling” a wetland and ordered that they restore their land to its natural state. PLF argued that the Clean Water Act and the Constitution entitled the Sacketts to go to court to challenge the EPA’s order. The Supreme Court unanimously agreed, holding that these threats could not escape judicial review.
Rapanos v. United States (2006)
PLF defended a land owner in the U.S. Supreme Court from charges that he had violated the Clean Water Act by simply moving sand on his property which was 20 miles from any waterway. PLF argued that the government agency could not expand its statutory power to regulate “navigable waters” into a general power to control virtually all land use decisions in the United States. The Supreme Court, in a divided opinion, agreed, holding that the Clean Water Act did not apply to the wetland since it was not adjacent to a non-navigable waterway and bore no “significant nexus” to a navigable water.
Nollan is one of the most important property rights decisions in the Court’s history. PLF attorneys represented the Nollans, who wanted to replace a dilapidated bungalow on their property with a single-family home. The Court held that, in order for government to compel a transfer of property as a condition on approval of a development application, the government must establish that an “essential nexus” exists between a permit condition and a proposed project. No such nexus existed in Nollan. We hope the Supreme Court will apply precedent established in this case to our current Koontz case.
In this case, PLF attorneys represented Bernadine Suitum, an elderly widow who wanted to build a small home in an established subdivision at Incline Village near Lake Tahoe. The United States Supreme Court stopped regulators from demanding that she sell her minuscule transferable development rights in a nonexistent market before being able to seek judicial relief for denial of her right to build a home.
Palazzolo v. Rhode Island (2001)
PLF represented Anthony Palazzolo when government denied him use of his land. The government argued that he had no constitutional property rights to assert because his property had changed ownership–passing from Mr. Palazzolo’s corporation to Mr. Palazzolo–after the land-use regulations came into effect. PLF argued that changes in ownership couldn’t shield the government’s actions from constitutional scrutiny. The Supreme Court agreed, holding the government is not relieved from the requirements of the Fifth Amendment just because the property changed hands.
PLF represented attorneys challenging the California state bar for using bar dues to fund political activity. The Supreme Court unanimously held that the First Amendment protects individuals who are legally bound to belong to a professional organization from being required to fund ideologically based lobbying. While professionals can be compelled to pay membership dues for professional associations, they cannot be forced to fund political and ideological activity that has nothing to do with regulating or managing their profession.
We hope to add Koontz to this list of Supreme Court wins soon.
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St. Johns River Water Management District v. 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.Read more