Florida Permitting Case (Koontz Amicus)

Supreme Court Hands Down Important Property Rights Victory

CONTACT: John Kramer, (703) 682-9320 ext. 205



Arlington, Va.—Today, the U.S. Supreme Court handed a victory to a property owner locked in a nearly 20-year battle with a Florida regulatory agency over a permit to develop his 3.7-acre property.  The Institute for Justice filed an amicus brief on behalf of itself and the Cato Institute, in support of the property owner Roy Koontz, Jr.  Koontz inherited the property from his father who had originally applied for the development permit and passed away before seeing an end to his fight.

It has long been unconstitutional for the government to award a building permit to a property owner only on the condition that the property owner hand over an unreasonable portion of their property to the public in exchange.  Today, agreeing with the argument advanced by the Institute for Justice’s brief, the Supreme Court held it is equally unconstitutional to require payment of an unreasonable amount of money.

“This is a big win for property rights,” said Dana Berliner, IJ’s Litigation Director and an author of IJ’s amicus brief.  “The Supreme Court has said that it is unconstitutional to use the permit process as a tool of extortion, whether the government demands cash or land.”

The government tried to make a technical argument that even if it its demand for cash was unreasonable, it did not violate prior Supreme Court precedent because instead of telling Koontz that he would get a permit as soon as he handed over land or money, it told him he would be denied a permit unless he handed over land or money.  The Supreme Court also today held that the government cannot escape constitutional protections for property rights by using words meant to elevate the form of the law over the substance of the law.  The Court ruled its previous Nollan and Dolan precedents, which also protected property rights against unconstitutional government-imposed permit conditions, “cannot be evaded in this way.”

“This opinion is an example of real judicial engagement,” said IJ Senior Attorney Robert McNamara.  “The Supreme Court looked squarely at the facts to hold that no matter how the government does it, holding up a permit unless or until a property owner hands over an unreasonable amount of money is extortion and it is unconstitutional.”

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