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Contact: Paul J. Beard II
Principal Attorney
Pacific Legal Foundation
pjb@pacificlegal.org
(916) 419-7111

Jan. 15: Supreme Court will hear historic PLF property rights case

What: Oral argument in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District.
When: Tuesday, January 15, 2013, 11:00 a.m. EST.
Where: United States Supreme Court.
Who: Paul J. Beard II, Principal Attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, will argue on behalf of the petitioner, Coy Koontz, Jr.

(Paul Beard and Coy Koontz, Jr., will be available for media interviews in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, after oral argument.)

Resources: PLF video and podcast on the Koontz case.

Koontz Family, PLF property rights clientsThis case could set a major precedent for property rights. At issue: can government exploit the land use permitting process to shake down property owners for money and concessions that aren’t related to the owner’s land or proposed project?

In a saga that began more than 15 years ago, the late Coy Koontz, Sr., and his family sought a permit to allow the potential for development on less than four acres they owned in Orange County, Florida, so Mr. Koontz could sell the property to provide for his retirement.

But the St. Johns River Water Management District imposed costly, unrelated demands as the price of a permit. In particular, the agency demanded that the Koontzes fund improvements on 50 acres of the district’s own land — up to seven miles away from the Koontz property! The cost: As much as $150,000, according to estimates that Mr. Koontz obtained.

When Mr. Koontz refused to accede to the District’s confiscatory demand, it denied him the permits necessary to make his property eligible for development so he could sell it.

Mr. Koontz sued the district to have the permit condition removed. However, he passed away in 2000 before the suit moved forward through the courts, and his son Coy Koontz, Jr., is now litigating it. Although lower state courts in Florida ruled for the Koontzes, the Florida Supreme Court reversed, holding that the District did not violate the U.S. Constitution by imposing an excessive and unrelated financial demand as the price of a land use permit.

Coy Koontz, Jr., then turned to PLF for help, and we successfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

This litigation involves the principles that the U.S. Supreme Court set forth in PLF’s landmark 1987 victory, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission. The Nollan Court held that land use regulators can’t use the permitting process as an excuse for extortion.

We’re asking the High Court to affirm that the Fifth Amendment prohibits all attempts to use the permitting process for shakedowns, not just extortionate demands for real property.

“I’m very grateful to PLF for getting me to the Supreme Court,” said Coy Koontz, Jr., “because what happened to my father and my family shouldn’t happen to any property owner, anywhere.”

Indeed, Coy Koontz, Jr., and his wife, Linda, relate a story of being in an elevator with one of the government’s witnesses who had just testified during one of the hearings in the case. When asked why the District hadn’t just purchased the property outright, the witness stated, “why would we buy the property when we can get it for free?”

“This kind of cold disregard for Americans’ property rights is why PLF fights so vigorously to defend our Constitution — and the rights of all Americans to be free from government abuse,” said PLF President Robin Rivett.

As with all our clients, PLF attorneys represent Coy Koontz, Jr., without charge.

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.