Court rules for property owner in Florida case

June 25, 2013 at 11:38 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 25 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday to narrow the demands made by local government on a landowner seeking to develop property.

The ruling is a big win for property rights advocates.

The late Coy Koontz Sr. wanted permits to develop a section of his property from St. Johns River Water Management District. Under Florida law, permits are required to build on wetlands to offset environmental damage.

Koontz offered to mitigate the environmental effects of his development proposal by deeding to the district a conservation easement on nearly three-quarters of his property. The district rejected the proposal and told him it would approve construction only if he reduced the size of his development and, among other things, deeded to the district a conservation easement on the rest of his property or hired contractors to make improvements to district-owned wetlands several miles away.

Koontz went to court, citing a state law that provides money damages for agency action that is an "unreasonable exercise of the state's police power constituting a taking without just compensation." The takings clause of the U.S. Constitution also bans the taking of private property for public use without just compensation.

A trial court, citing Supreme Court precedent, found the district's actions unlawful. Those high court precedents held that government may not condition the approval of a land use permit on the owner's giving up a portion of his property -- unless there is a connection and "rough proportionality between the government's demand and the effects of the proposed land use.'

Eventually, the Florida Supreme Court reversed.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Florida Supreme Court. In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito cited high court precedent, adding, "It makes no difference that no property was actually taken in this case. Extortionate demands for property in the land-use permitting context run afoul of the [U.S. Constitution's] takings clause not because they take property but because they impermissibly burden the right not to have property taken without just compensation."

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