2 years ago

Koontz’s decades-long battle for property rights comes to a just end

By Brian T. Hodges Senior Attorney

Back in 1994, Coy Koontz, Sr. sued a Florida land use agency for placing unconstitutional demands on his application to develop a couple acres of commercial property located at the intersection of two major highways. Today, over two decades later, his battle for his property rights has finally come to an end—and a just one at that.

As you may recall, when Koontz applied to develop his land, a local land use agency said it would approve the permits, but only if he paid to restore degraded wetlands owned by the government and located miles away the development. When Koontz objected, the agency denied his permits. 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. At that point, PLF filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court and scored a major victory for all property owners in the case, Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District (2013). (We discuss that ruling in detail here).

For Koontz, however, the litigation continued. The case returned to the Florida courts, where the court of appeals once again, upheld the trial court’s conclusion that the agency’s refusal to issue the permits without the unconstitutional demands effected a taking and that the agency must pay just compensation. In June 2014, the agency petitioned for review, asking the Florida Supreme Court to revisit the case and overturn the lower court’s compensation award. PLF filed briefs in opposition to review, and the matter had been pending ever since.

Earlier today, we received an order from the Florida Supreme Court denying the government’s petition, bringing a long-overdue conclusion to Koontz’s legal fight. Now, all that’s left is to go back to the trial court to collect a compensation award issued back in 2006.

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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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