U.S. Supreme Court Rules On Property Rights Case

On June 25, in a 5–4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Florida Supreme Court ruling in favor of Orange County (Fla.) landowner Coy Koontz, ending an 18-year legal battle. In news headlines, the case has been called a property rights victory, an environmental disaster, and a factor of uncertainty among permitting agencies.

Part of the land Koontz sought to develop was in a protected wetland. Koontz appealed to the St. Johns River Management District and was told that he could move forward with development if he either reduced development and created a deed-restricted conservation area or paid the district to make improvements to 20 ha (50 ac) of offsite government-owned wetland.

While no property was actually taken from Koontz, the majority ruled that denial of the permit equates to taking without just compensation and that monetary burdens can also have the effect of taking. According to justices, the district’s request failed two tests established in earlier court trials — the rough proportionality test and the essential nexus test. According to these tests, the government’s permitting demands, including financial demands, must be proportionate to the effects of the proposed land use.

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