The U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling today in the closely-watched Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District case. The decision is a major victory for private property rights, particularly in the land use permitting context.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled in favor of Koontz, who argued that the District violated his Fifth Amendment rights when it denied his requested permit unless he (1) reduced the size of his development and gave the District additional property beyond the nearly 75 percent he already offered, or (2) hired contractors to improve wetlands owned by the District several miles away. The Fifth Amendment of course protects property owners from government takings without just compensation. According to Justice Alito, who wrote the decision for the majority (which included Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas), “extortionate demands of this sort frustrate the Fifth Amendment right to just compensation.”
By way of background, Koontz was required under Florida law to offset the environmental damage resulting from his project if he wanted to build in the wetlands. Koontz proposed to mitigate those environmental effects by giving the District a conservation easement to 75 percent of his property. The District refused absent Koontz’s compliance with the additional demands referenced above. Koontz felt the District’s demands were excessive and filed suit alleging they amounted to a taking without just compensation.
The Court dismissed concerns that its ruling would “work a revolution in land use law or unduly limit the discretion of local authorities to implement sensible land use regulations.” The District and other permitting authorities fear precisely that result.
For more information on this important case or questions regarding permitting and takings disputes, please contact David McCay, a Massachusetts real estate and environmental litigator at Mirick O’Connell at (508) 791-8500.