The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a Florida Supreme Court ruling against an Orange County landowner who said a water management district's permitting requirements amounted to a constitutional taking of land.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of the late Coy A. Koontz Sr., who sought to build on 3 of his 15 acres in Orange County.
He was told by the St. Johns River Water Management District in 1994 that he could build if he reduced the size of his development or paid for work restoring wetlands on agency property seven miles away. Koontz refused.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court said previous legal tests of whether a constitutionally prohibited taking occurs applies even when government denies a permit or demands money. The case will go back to the Florida Supreme Court for a rehearing.
Legal observers disagreed as to whether the case will affect how agencies and local governments deal with development permit applications.
The Florida Supreme Court had said that if agencies have to worry about negotiating with permit applicants, they can simply deny those permits.
And on Tuesday, University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster agreed. He filed a brief on behalf of the National Governors Association and other groups that supported the state Supreme Court ruling.
Fenster said if he were advising a city or county, "I would say do not engage in discussions with property owners (filing permit applications). If you feel as though an application for the development of property will have significant bad effects, then simply deny the application."
But Jacob T. Cremer, a lawyer in Tampa who filed a brief in the case on behalf of Hillcrest Property LLP challenging the state Supreme Court decision, said he thinks the opinion issued Tuesday will encourage agencies to offer more than one option to landowners other than permit denial.
"I think really what you won't see is like what happened in this case where the district said, 'If you do this one specific thing then we'll issue you the permit," Cremer said.
"My sense is that doesn't happen very often," he said. "You won't see that situation any more."
Koontz earlier sued the district and a circuit court awarded him $376,154 for a temporary taking of his property by the state agency. The 5th District Court of Appeal denied requests by the water district to overturn the decision.
But the Florida Supreme Court in 2011 reversed the decision. The court ruled that if governments were required to pay landowners for any regulation as a taking of land, then regulation would become prohibitively expensive.
On Tuesday, the St. Johns River Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a joint statement saying that the U.S. Supreme Court opinion "clarified the constitutional protections that must be afforded to landowners when governmental entities issue permits affecting protected property interests."
"While the case is remanded for further proceedings in the Florida Supreme Court, the Department of Environmental Protection and the St. Johns River Water Management District will be working to ensure that the legal principles announced in today’s decision are being addressed throughout the agencies," the statement said.
* June 25, 2013 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Koontz case
* Jan. 2, 2013 "When Government Takes You Hostage," by Richard Epstein in Defining Ideas
* SCOTUS blog with links to briefs in Koontz case
* Nov. 3, 2011 Florida Supreme Court opinion
* Nov. 3, 2011 "Florida Supreme Court rules in state's favor in permit denial case," by The Florida Current