November 29, 2012

Koontz receives broad support in his fight to protect property rights

By Brian T. Hodges Senior Attorney

Last month, I explained how the U.S. Supreme Court case, Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District, has the potential to affect every property owner across the nation. As it turns out, people were listening. Yesterday, our client, Coy Koontz, received nine amicus briefs from 31 organizations supporting Mr. Koontz’s argument that property owners have a right to use their land free of government coercion.

As you may recall, Koontz asks whether the government can withhold a land use permit unless and until the owner pays for improvements to government-owned property.  The U.S. Supreme Court has found this type of coercion to cross the line and violate the Takings Clause when the government demands an interest in real property in the cases Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard.  But this case is slightly different.  Here, the government demanded that Mr. Koontz dedicate his money—his personal property—as opposed to real property.  The Florida Supreme Court seized upon that distinction to hold that Nollan and Dolan do not apply—according to the Florida court, there is no constitutional limit on compelled dedications of money or other personal property.

Of course, the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not distinguish between types of property.  It protects all property from uncompensated takings.  The Florida court’s decision to the contrary drew attention from landowners, developers, industry associations, legal scholars, land use attorneys, and think tanks from across the country, whose amicus briefs are available on PLF’s website.

Over the next week, I will highlight some of the amicus arguments.  But in the meantime, I leave you with a succinct summary of Mr. Koontz’s case from the Association of Florida Community Developers, the Florida Land Council, the Florida Farm Bureau, and the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association:

Meaningful negations—those focused on conditions directly related and proportionate to impacts from a proposed land use—lead to sound public policy.  Extortion does not. [T]he Florida Supreme Court’s decision reduces land use decisions to just that.  It transforms an already tilted process into one where state-sanctioned abuse may go unchecked. [The Constitution] require[s] more.

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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.

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