The Koontz Case in Florida

Another win for property rights!    In June, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Koontz family in a case based on the Takings clause of the U.S.Constitution.     The Takings Clause, the last clause of the Fifth Amendment, limits the power of eminent domain by requiring that “just compensation” be paid if private property is taken for public use.  As I understand this case Coy Koontz, Sr., applied for permits to build a home on 3.7 acres of his 15 acre plot, which was in an area of Florida designated as wetlands,

wetlands, koontz, eminent domain, seven50, property rights

Wetlands Project

The St Johns River Management District wanted him to give up the balance of his 15 acre holding as conservation lands plus pay up to $150,000 for improvements on an unrelated plot of State-owned land.   As I read about the Koontz family fight I realized how vigilant we the people have to be and how ready to fight to protect our property rights we need to be.  Read the summary of the Koontz decision as reported on the PLF (Pacific Legal Foundation) Liberty Blog on June 25, 2013

A summary of the Koontz decision

June 25, 2013

As reported earlier, the United States Supreme Court handed property owners across the country a major victory in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District.  The decision’s positive impact on individuals who seek to make use of their properties—e.g., landowners, homeowners, businesses, etc.—cannot be overstated.  Here’s a summary, in layman’s terms, of what the Court decided.  But first, some background.

In 1987, the Supreme Court decided another important property rights case (also argued by PLF attorneys):  Nollan v. California Coastal Commission.  In Nollan, the permitting agency had approved a permit to remodel a home, but only on the condition that the owner first dedicate to the State an easement that would allow the public to walk freely across his backyard.  There was absolutely no connection between the owner’s remodel project and the easement demand.  The agency simply wanted something—a valuable interest in Nollan’s land—without having to pay for it, and it used the permit process to coerce him into complying with its wish.


You should read the full article about the Koontz decision as reported on the PLF Liberty Blog,  but the conclusions stated at the end of that article are as follows:

Today’s decision by Justice Alito handed the Koontz family a victory on both points.  First, it held that there’s no constitutional difference between a permit denial (following an owner’s refusal to submit to an extortionate condition) and a permit approval containing an extortionate condition.  Extortion is extortion, and all such conditions should be reviewed under the heightened scrutiny provided for in Nollan—i.e., the government must show an “essential nexus” between the condition and the impact of the proposed use of the land. Second—and perhaps more significantly—the Court held that all demands for property in the permit context (including monetary exactions) are subject to Nollan review.  This is an important holding for the countless property owners across the country who face an ever-increasing number of monetary exactions imposed by agencies in the permit process.

After today’s decision, the Constitution requires that such exactions bear an essential nexus to the impact of the owner’s use of the land. The four liberal Justices dissented.  Curiously, even the liberals rejected the “permit approval v. permit denial” distinction that the District advanced.  They, too, agreed that it doesn’t matter how a demand for property might be couched in the permit process; if an owner is coerced into giving up property in exchange for a permit, it is subject to Nollan review.  However, the liberals disagreed with respect to the monetary exaction issue.  In their view, money is not property for purposes of Nollan; thus, monetary exactions–unlike land exactions—are not subject to scrutiny under that decision.  To open such exactions to Nollan review will, in their eyes, open the floodgates to challenges to taxes, user fees, and the like.  (Alito’s opinion effectively rebuts this exaggeration, noting, inter alia, that the holding applies in the unique land-use context). There will be more analysis of this opinion as the day goes on, so stay tuned.  In the meantime, every property owner in America has a cause to celebrate today.  No longer will agencies be able to skirt the important protections provided to them under the Constitution.





Filed under: Property Rights

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!