ACRU

ACRU: Supreme Court Gets It Right in Property Case

Ruling mirrors ACRU’s brief that Florida officials resorted to unconstitutional coercion against land owner.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 28) – The U.S. Supreme Court on June 25 in a 5-4 ruling smacked down Florida officials who tried to coerce a landowner into paying for improvements to a piece of property in order to obtain needed permits for an entirely unrelated parcel.

The Court essentially agreed with the argument made in the American Civil Rights Union’s amicus brief that the demand amounted to an unconstitutional “taking” of property that violates the Fifth Amendment.

The brief in Coy A. Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District, written by ACRU General Counsel Peter J. Ferrara, notes that “the record indisputably shows that the permits were denied because Koontz refused to provide payoffs in the form of payments for the restoration and enhancement of unrelated property owned by the District miles away from Koontz’s proposed development on his own property.”

Coy Koontz Jr. had purchased a vacant 14.9 acre lot in 1972 in Orange County, Florida. In 1994, Koontz applied to the water district for permits to develop 3.7 acres of his property. But Koontz was told he would not get the permit unless he agreed to finance restoration and enhancement of at least 50 acres of wetlands on district-owned land miles from and unrelated to his proposed development, in addition to donating the remaining 11 acres, or 75%, of his property to the water district.

Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion states:

“Land-use permit applicants are especially vulnerable to [this] type of coercion . . . Extortionate demands of this sort frustrate the Fifth Amendment right to just compensation, and the unconstitutional conditions doctrine prohibits them.”

“This is a victory for property rights and common sense,” said Susan A. Carleson, ACRU’s chairman and CEO. “The Court appears to be moving in the right direction, correcting some errors such as the infamous Kelo v. City of New London, (2005) case in Connecticut, in which people’s homes were seized to make way for private development. The pendulum is swinging back.”