Washington, D.C.; January 15, 2013: This morning, the historic property rights case of Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District was argued at the United State Supreme Court by Paul J. Beard II, a principal attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation. PLF is the leading public interest watchdog organization that litigates for limited government and property rights. PLF attorneys represent petitioner Coy Koontz, Jr., without charge, as they do for all PLF clients.
“This historic case asks whether government can shake down property owners,” said Beard. “We argue, emphatically, that it cannot. The Fifth Amendment prohibits land use regulators from turning the permit process into an extortion machine. Government can’t coerce property owners into paying unjustified amounts of money, or giving up fundamental rights, or agreeing to other unrelated conditions, as the price of a land use permit.”
“Good morning. I’m Paul J. Beard II, a principal attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation.
“Pacific Legal Foundation is a non-profit, public interest watchdog organization that litigates nationwide for constitutional principles of limited government and property rights.
“Pacific Legal Foundation represents the petitioner in this case, Coy Koontz, Jr., and I am proud to have argued at the nation’s highest court this morning, on behalf of the Koontz family’s property rights, and the constitutional rights of all property owners, nationwide.
“Yes, the case that the justices heard today is vitally important for the property rights of EVERYONE in America, from coast to coast. Because, in this litigation, the Koontz family and Pacific Legal Foundation are taking a stand against government extortion of property owners.
Coy Koontz Jr. and PLF Principal Attorney Paul J. Beard II speak to reporters following the Supreme Court oral argument.
“We are asking the Supreme Court to send a message and make it clear to government regulators at all levels, in all parts of the country: Government cannot abuse its land use permitting powers by shaking people down. It can’t arm-twist a homeowner or other landowner who is seeking a land use permit. Government can’t arm-twist that person into giving up land or money or rights, when the government’s demand has no connection to the person’s property or the land use proposal that is being considered.
“Unfair. Oppressive. Confiscatory.
“All those words describe the treatment that the Koontz family received from the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Central Florida regulatory agency that we’re suing in this case.
“Another word also applies: unconstitutional.
“This case is a story about a family that was victimized by an unconstitutional shakedown, a shakedown that not only threatened them with the confiscation of an outrageous sum of money, but also deprived them of the legitimate use of their own private property.
“The saga started nearly 20 years ago, when the now deceased Coy Koontz, Sr. sought a permit to allow four acres of his property in Orange County, Florida, to be available for development, so he could sell the property and finance his retirement.
“In response, the St. Johns River Water Management District set an ultimatum: Mr. Koontz would get his permit ONLY if he would dedicate all the rest of his land — 11 acres — for conservation AND pay up to $150,000 for improvements to the district’s own property.
“Mr. Koontz was willing to dedicate the 11 acres.
“But he objected to the payoff demand. He objected to enriching the government by paying for work on the government’s own property, which was up to seven miles away, and which had no connection to the Koontzes’ property or their proposed land use permit.
“But when Coy Koontz, Sr., refused to agree to this unacceptable demand to pay for government upgrades on government land, he was denied his permit for his own property.
“Coy Koontz, Sr., had a strong commitment to family and community, and a solid sense of right and wrong. So he responded to injustice from government regulators, by seeking justice in the courts.
“However, Mr. Koontz passed away in 2000, before his lawsuit had prevailed at the trial and intermediate state courts in Florida.
“His son, Coy Koontz, Jr., my client, inherited his father’s sense of principle, and he carried on the lawsuit. But Florida’s Supreme Court ruled the other way, reversing the lower courts. It refused to recognize that the government had violated the Constitution by trying to grab money through a demand that was unrelated to the Koontzes’ land use permit application.
“So Coy Koontz, Jr. turned to Pacific Legal Foundation, because of our decades long mission and track record in advocating for average Americans’ constitutional property rights.
“Representing the Koontzes, Pacific Legal Foundation was successful in petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this important property rights case. And so the long saga of the Koontzes’ battle for everyone’s fundamental property rights has led us here, to the nation’s highest court.
“We have stressed to the Supreme Court that what happened to the Koontzes is a classic case of unconstitutional regulatory abuse, and it should not happen to any property owner, anywhere.
“In fact, the Supreme Court has already said this, clearly, 26 years ago, in the Pacific Legal Foundation case of Nollan vs. California Coastal Commission. That famous case said that the Fifth Amendment doesn’t permit land use regulators to engage in extortion against property owners. The government cannot use the permitting process to extract conditions and concessions from the property owner that are not related to the impact of the land use proposal.
“But officials and agencies around the country have tried to evade that anti-shakedown rule, so we’ve had to come back to the Supreme Court, today, to ask the justices to put an end to the evasions.
“In the Nollan case 26 years ago, the regulators demanded some of the homeowners’ real property in exchange for giving a permit to rebuild a dilapidated house. The Supreme Court said the demand had no justification and, therefore, violated the Constitution. With the Koontzes, the unjustified permit condition took the form of a demand that they spend money — an outrageous sum — for the government’s benefit. We are arguing to the Supreme Court that there is no logical difference between these two coercive demands. The Constitution prohibits government shakedowns against property owners who are seeking permits to use their land, and that prohibition doesn’t come with an asterisk. It applies to all shakedowns. It applies just as much when the coercion takes the form of an opportunistic demand for money or other unjustified concessions, as when the extortion is in the form of a land grab.
“The right to own and use private property responsibly is a constitutional right that undergirds all our other freedoms. It is a right that all Americans may lay claim to — and it is a right that must be jealously protected against abuse by over-zealous, heavy-handed, or confiscatory regulatory action. That is why this case is so important for all Americans, from Florida to California, and from Texas to Minnesota. As the Koontzes say, they’re fighting for all property owners, because no property owner should have to face what they faced. That is why I congratulate Coy Koontz, Jr., and his family for carrying their fight for justice and the Constitution all the way to this court.”
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation (www.pacificlegal.org) is a non-profit, public interest watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulation, in courts across the country.
The Koontz case marks the eighth time in PLF’s 40-year history that the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted a PLF direct-representation case for limited government and constitutional rights. Last year, PLF attorneys won their sixth historic victory at the High Court, challenging over-reaching government regulations in Sackett v. EPA.
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