April 30, 2014

PLF scores another Koontz victory

By PLF scores another Koontz victory

Today, the Florida Court of Appeal handed our client, Coy Koontz, Jr., an important victory following PLF’s U.S. Supreme Court win in this case last June.

A three-judge panel of the Florida Court of Appeal held that the Koontz family is entitled to damages under Florida law for the period of time during which the St. Johns River Water Management District (a Florida state agency) denied the family use of its property, simply because it refused to submit to an unconstitutional permit condition.  The condition required the family to spend up to $150,000 to finance off-site improvements to state-owned land—a condition bearing no connection to the impact of the proposed project.

The Court of Appeal also rejected the state agency’s call to re-open the case for further briefing on numerous procedural issues.  It concluded that those issues had either been disposed of or waived by the agency.

One justice dissented.  Because the District approved the permit years ago without the condition (only after a Florida court required them to do so), the family never had to finance the District’s pet project.  Consequently, the dissent notes, nothing was ever “taken” from the family requiring payment of just compensation.  But the dissent misunderstands the purpose of the Florida statute allowing damages in these cases:  The family’s injury lies, not in the taking of its money, but in the years of lost use of its property.  It is that injury that the Florida statute redresses—and that today’s decision finally remedies.

The Court of Appeal’s decision is an important win, not just for the Koontz family, but for all Floridians who face extortionate demands in the permitting process.  Under the Court of Appeal’s interpretation of the relevant Florida statute, property owners can be compensated for the lost use of their land during the entire period the land-use agency engages in its extortionate practice.

We hope the St. Johns River Water Management District will accept today’s decision and make the family whole, thereby putting an end to nearly 20 years of litigation.  If not, PLF stands ready to fight on until the Koontz family obtains the justice it deserves.

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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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