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July, 2013

Koontz decision puts new teeth in the Takings Clause!

Historic: PLF's latest Supreme Court victory for property owners nationwide

“I'm ecstatic.”

That was PLF’s client, Coy Koontz Jr., speaking on a conference call to the national media in late June, just after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in the PLF property rights case, Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District.

Koontz and Beard
Coy Koontz, Jr., and PLF Principal Attorney Paul J. Beard, II are interviewed outside of the Supreme Court

In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court gave Mr. Koontz and his family a major victory against the Central Florida­based water district, which had attempted to extort money from the Koontzes in the land-use permitting process.

The court reversed the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in support of the agency.

Mr. Koontz is “ecstatic” not just on his own behalf. “This is a victory for all property owners in Florida and nationwide,” he told the reporters on the post-decision conference call.

“It will give all property owners the power to fight back when government makes unjust demands on them. I am very grateful to Pacific Legal Foundation for getting this case to the U.S. Supreme Court and winning such a decisive victory.”

Just as PLF urged the justices to do, the court’s majority issued strong new assurances that government can’t shake down property owners when they seek land use permits.

Victory, PLF Supreme CourtThe victory is a tribute to PLF and our donors — and also to the tenacity of the Koontz family. It was more than 18 years ago that the late Coy Koontz Sr. sought a development permit for three acres he owned in Orange County, Florida. Even though the three acres were not wetlands — as the government later acknowledged — and even though he agreed to dedicate most of his land (11 acres) for conservation, the water agency demanded up to $150,000 for upgrades and “wetlands mitigation” on government property miles away.

Mr. Koontz sued, but passed away in 2000. His son, Coy Jr., has carried on the legal fight, but he couldn’t afford to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on his own — so he turned to PLF. PLF represented the Koontzes free of charge, as with all our clients — and we were successful in getting the High Court to take the case.

PLF’s Koontz victory marks one of the most important new property rights precedents from the Supreme Court in years. It puts tough new teeth in the Fifth Amendment’s “Takings Clause,” which bans government seizure of property without compensation.

The Koontz ruling makes it clear that the ban on confiscation applies to unjust demands for money in the permitting context, just as much as indefensible demands for land or other unjust concessions.

The Koontz ruling: The land use permitting process can’t be used as an extortion machine

“PLF’s victory in Koontz protects all property owners from unconstitutional takings,” said PLF Principal Attorney Paul J. Beard II, who successfully argued the case at the U.S. Supreme Court. “The Koontz family was challenging permit demands that were wildly excessive and had no connection to their land use proposal. The court recognized that the family’s constitutional rights were being denied. The court’s message is clear: Government can’t turn the land use permitting process into a tool for extortion.

PLF Podcast Now PlayingListen to PLF Principal Attorney Paul J. Beard II discuss our lawsuit in this podcast.
Don't have iTunes? Listen to the podcast online.

“The court has made it clear that money is a form of property protected by the Takings Clause, so the Constitution prohibits grabbing unjustified amounts of money from property owners in the permitting process, the same way it prohibits grabbing land without compensation,” Beard added.

In another historic aspect of the ruling, the court relieved property owners from having to run a procedural obstacle course before they can challenge unconstitutional permit demands. Specifically, no longer can landowners be required to accept an illegal land use condition before they’ll be allowed to file a lawsuit against it.

Thanks to our donors: This is PLF’s seventh consecutive Supreme Court victory for liberty and limited government

The Koontz decision marks the seventh time that PLF has won a precedent-setting, direct-representation victory at the U.S. Supreme Court for liberty and limited government. Quite a cork-popping way to celebrate our 40th anniversary year!

The headlines signal the decision's importance for the mission that PLF’s supporters hold dear: “Supreme Court ruling bolsters private property rights” (Los Angeles Times); “Supreme Court gives landowners big win in Florida case” (Miami Herald); “Private property advocates cheer Supreme Court ruling” (McClatchy News Service); “Pacific Legal Foundation lands solid win with wetlands property case” (Sacramento Business Journal).

Once again, PLF has successfully stood up for “little guys,” in defense of big principles-and won legal precedents that will fortify freedom for this generation and those to come.

More information on the Koontz decision, including a podcast and video statement, may be found at our website: www.pacificlegal.org.

It’s our donors who make this vital work possible! Your generosity has made PLF America’s premier defender of property rights.

The Koontz family thanks you -- and PLF’s “family” of attorneys and staff thank you! Please continue to be generous so we can keep "rescuing liberty" -- from county courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court!

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Rob Rivett
Pacific Legal Foundation

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