Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District

November 28, 2012 • Legal Briefs
By Ilya Shapiro, Trevor Burrus, and Elisabeth Gusfa

Coy Koontz, a Florida land owner, was denied a permit to develop his commercial property because he would not agree to use his money and labor to improve 50 acres of government‐​owned land miles away from his land. Improving this distant land was the price Koontz would have to pay for the “privilege” of developing his property. Such exactions by local governments are unfortunately common. The Supreme Court has ruled, however, that when a government requires such an extra expenditure as a condition for developing property there must be some connection between the extra expenditure and the proposed project. For example, if someone applies for a permit to develop their land in a way that impedes water runoff, the government may require her to build drainage infrastructure elsewhere before they grant her the permit. But if a court determines that a government condition has no essential connection to the permit sought by the landowner, then the exaction is a taking under the Fifth Amendment for which just compensation must be paid. Coy Koontz never agreed to the government’s conditions, thus he was denied his permit. He then brought suit claiming that the denial of the permit was a taking itself. He won at the trial and appellate levels, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government agency, holding that U.S. Supreme Court precedent applied only to land and not to personal property (i.e. Koontz’s money and labor). Cato has joined the Institute for Justice in an amicus brief arguing that the government should not be allowed to withhold permit approvals simply because Koontz refused to accede to the government’s unlawful conditions. We argue that the requirement that there be some connection between the government condition and the proposed project should apply equally to both land and personal property. Otherwise, local governments are tempted to hold land hostage in exchange for landowners completing the pet projects of lawmakers. We list many such abuses, including times when landowners were required to build parks and even fire stations in exchange for permits to develop their lands. The Court should affirm that such widespread abuses are also unconstitutional takings.

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