SACRAMENTO, CA; January 27, 2014: Coy Koontz Jr., who won a landmark victory for property rights last year at the United States Supreme Court, has been honored with the 2014 Crystal Eagle Award by the Owners’ Counsel of America (OCA), a nationwide network of the country’s leading eminent domain attorneys.
The award was presented Saturday, January 25, at OCA’s annual meeting in New Orleans.
The Crystal Eagle is awarded each year to an individual who has made a substantial contribution toward protecting the right of property ownership.
The contribution of Coy Koontz Jr. and his family has been truly history-making: Through their unflagging, years-long battle against a Florida agency’s confiscatory actions, they were able to achieve a Supreme Court ruling that protects all property owners from being victimized and extorted by land use permit authorities.
“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 control you unreasonably,” said Mr. Koontz.
In the case, Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, Coy Koontz Jr. was represented at the Supreme Court by attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation, a legal watchdog organization that litigates nationwide for property rights and limited government.
The saga started in 1994, when Coy Jr.’s father, Coy Koontz Sr., a small entrepreneur, applied for permission to develop 3.7 acres of his property in Orange County, Florida.
Although the Koontzes offered to set aside the rest of their property — 11 acres — for conservation, the district wanted more from them. The Koontzes were told to pay for “mitigation” projects, such as replacing culverts and plugging ditches, on district land, miles away — at a cost of up to $150,000.
Seeing that negotiation was giving way to attempted confiscation, Coy Koontz Sr. headed to court, arguing that he was being shaken down in violation of 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, all the way to the Supreme Court. In its 5-4 ruling last year, the Court held, for the first time, that financial demands on permit applicants cannot be excessive and unrelated or disproportional to the proposed development and the impacts it might cause.
The case has now returned to the lower state courts where Mr. Koontz and his attorneys are seeking compliance from the regulators, but the Supreme Court’s Koontz precedent is firmly established and offers protection for property owners nationwide. The Court has now made it clear that money is “property” for the purposes of the Takings Clause, so landowners are protected by the Constitution from extortionate regulatory demands.
“OCA is honored to recognize Coy Koontz Jr. and the Koontz family for their fortitude and endurance through nearly 20 years of legal wrangling with the government,” said Catherine Newman, the organization’s executive director. “By standing up for his own rights, Mr. Koontz has strengthened the property rights of all Americans. Coy Koontz is truly a champion of private property rights.”
“We at Pacific Legal Foundation deeply respect the commitment, the patriotism and strong sense of principle that motivate Coy Koontz Jr. and his family,” said PLF Director of Litigation James Burling, who received the Crystal Eagle Award in 2013 for his own distinguished contributions to the cause of property rights. “It is an honor for PLF to work with people who love liberty and cherish property rights 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 represents all clients free of charge.
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