A Victory for Property Rights

The Supreme Court delivered a victory for property rights in June with its decision in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management issued on June 25, 2013.  The case addressed whether a Florida wetlands district can place excessive conditions on its approval of a land use permit.  Sadly, the circumstances at the basis of this case started back in 1994 and are only now being finally resolved. 

Mr. Koontz is a landowner in Florida who wanted to approximately 15 acres of property that was classified as wetlands. Mr. Koontz wanted to develop 3.7 acres of the land and was willing to deed the other 11 acres to the water management district  for conservation. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the district with 2/3 of the land going for conservation and only 1/3 being developed.

The district refused, wanting all but one acre of Mr. Koontz's land, or in the alternative, allowing him to proceed with the 3.7 acre development, deeding the conservation easement on the 11 acres PLUS paying thousands more to improve some other district land that had nothing to do with his proposed development.

Mr. Koontz refused and sued the district, alleging that its unreasonable exercise of state power was a taking of his property without just compensation. The Florida courts disagreed using some rather upside down logic that since Mr. Koontz was refused the permit, his land wasn't actually taken and therefore he didn't have a claim.

The US Supreme Court disagreed with the Florida court, holding that
"extortionate demands for property in the land-use context run afoul of the Takings Clause not because they take property but because they impermissibly burden the right not to have property taken without just compensation."

This decision is significant as the government at all levels can be rather creative in finding more ways to extort property from landowners.  However, I'm troubled that the decision was only 5-4. We are only one Supreme Court justice away from the government being able to further burden with impunity people's ability to use their own land.

1 comment :

Daniel Moskowirz said...

Interesting article. We run into a good amount of issues/concerns here on Hilton Head Island with wetlands, beach and oceanfront setbacks, etc. but nothing as drawn out as this case.