Palatka, FL; March 31, 2016: More than two decades after launching a lawsuit for their property rights — and three years after winning a landmark victory in the case at the U.S. Supreme Court — the family of the late Coy Koontz Sr. has finally been reimbursed by the Palatka-based St. Johns River Water Management District, for the agency’s confiscatory demands that denied the Koontzes the use of their land in Orange County, Florida.
After the District lost at every level of the judiciary, it finally provided a payment of $600,000 last week, as “just compensation” for its extortionate treatment of the Koontzes dating back 22 years. In 1994, the late Mr. Koontz, a small entrepreneur, applied for permission to develop 3.7 acres of his land. The District responded by saying he must dedicate his remaining 10.5 acres for conservation — and spend up to $150,000 repairing District property miles away. Because he refused to fund government projects that had no connection to his proposal, he was denied a land use permit.
Of the $600,000 that the family has now been paid in reimbursement, about half represents interest for the many years of delay.
“This is a great victory, not just for my family and for the memory of my late father, but for the cause of property rights in general,” said Coy Koontz Jr. “My family and I have given up so much of our lives for this fight because we believe that owning your property ought to mean something — that the government can’t dictate to you unreasonably.”
Rather than submit to the District’s coercion, Coy Koontz Sr. headed to court in 1994, arguing that the District was violating the Fifth Amendment’s ban on uncompensated “takings” of private property. Coy Sr. passed away during the early stage of the case. But Coy Jr. continued the battle in a years-long struggle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, where he was represented, free of charge, by Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), the nation’s leading legal defender of property rights. In its 5-4 ruling for the Koontzes, the Supreme Court affirmed that “Extortionate demands for property in the land use permitting context run afoul of the Takings Clause . . . .” The decision was precedent-setting because it held, for the first time, that the ban on unjust land use conditions extends not just to the seizure of real property without compensation, but also to shakedowns for money.
The Supreme Court remanded the case back to Florida courts to decide whether the Koontz family was entitled to damages. A state appellate court affirmed a trial court’s earlier damages award, and last month the Florida Supreme Court denied the District’s appeal. This left the District with no recourse but to finally comply with the Fifth Amendment and pay the Koontzes the compensation they were due.
“We at Pacific Legal Foundation deeply respect the commitment and strong sense of principle that have motivated the Koontz family throughout this 22-year battle,” said PLF Director of Litigation James Burling. “For PLF, it has been an honor to work with people who love liberty and cherish constitutional freedoms for all Americans.”
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation is the leading watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts nationwide. PLF’s Atlantic Center is headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. PLF represents all clients free of charge.
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