Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management

RESPONDENT:St. John’s River Water Management
LOCATION: South of State Road 50, immediately east of the eastern extension of the East–West Expressway

DOCKET NO.: 11-1447
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: Florida Supreme Court

CITATION: 570 US 2588 (2013)
GRANTED: Oct 05, 2012
ARGUED: Jan 15, 2013
DECIDED: Jun 25, 2013

Edwin S. Kneedler – Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae supporting the respondent
Paul J. Beard II – for the petitioner
Paul R. Q. Wolfson – for the respondent

Facts of the case

In 1994, Coy A. Koontz requested a permit from St. John’s River Water Management to develop more of his land than the original permit allowed. St. John’s had jurisdiction over Koontz’s land. St. John’s agreed to issue the permit on the condition that Koontz deed the rest of his property into a conservation area and do some mitigation work on the surrounding areas. Koontz agreed to the deed but not to the mitigation work. St. John’s denied the permit application.

Koontz sued St. John’s River Water Management, and the trial court found in favor of Koontz. A Florida trial court held that St. John’s actions effected a taking of Koontz land and that imposing requirements for the issuance of a permit is only constitutional if the required action serves the same governmental purpose as the ban on development. Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court of Florida reversed.


Is the government liable for a taking when it refuses to issue a permit until the landowner has agreed to dedicate personal resources to a public use?

Media for Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 15, 2013 in Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 25, 2013 in Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has the opinion of the court in two cases this morning.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

The first case is Koontz versus Saint Johns River Water Management District, No. 11-1447.

This case involves two of our important land-use precedents, Nollan versus California Coastal Commission and Dolan versus City of Tigard.

Those cases held that a unit of local government may demand property as a condition of its approval of a land-use permit only if the demand has a nexus with and is roughly proportional to the public arms that the proposed land-use would cause.

Those cases thus served to place at least some limits on the ability of local authorities to abuse their power.

In this case, petitioner Coy Koontz applied to the Saint Johns River Water Management District for a permit to build on land he owned East of Orlando, Florida.

The district denied the application telling Mr. Koontz that it would approve the application only if he agreed to pay for improvements to state-owned property several miles away.

Mr. Koontz refused and instead sued in state court alleging that the district’s demand ran afoul of our decisions in Nollan and Dolan.

The trial court applied those precedents and ruled for Mr. Koontz, but the Florida Supreme Court reversed finding Nollan and Dolan distinguishable on two grounds.

Today, we reject both of those rationales and therefore reverse.

First, the Florida Supreme Court thought that it made a difference whether a local authority says, “Your permit is granted on the condition that you give us your property,” as suppose to saying, “Your permit is denied because you refused to give us your property.”

We hold that Nollan and Dolan cannot be so easily circumvented.

They are special applications of the unconstitutional conditions doctrine which forbids the government from coercing someone into giving up a constitutional right.

We have repeatedly held that this doctrine applies with equal force, regardless of whether the government phrases its demand as a condition precedent or a condition subsequent to obtaining a governmental benefit.

Under that, well-settled principle, Nollan and Dolan apply, regardless of whether permitting officials used the words “only, if, or, not, unless.”

Second and for similar reasons, we hold that the State Supreme Court should have applied Nollan and Dolan even though respondents demand was for money rather than a tangible interest in real property.

Demands for money in the land use permitting context implicate the central concern of Nollan and Dolan that the government may abuse its broad discretion to regulate land use to extort property that the Takings Clause would otherwise require it to pay for.

As a practical matter, there is not much difference between a demand that a landowner give up a certain portion of its property and a demand that the landowner pay the value of the property in question, which of course would allow the land use authority than to turn around if it has the eminent domain power, condemn the land and acquire the land in that way.

Again, Nollan and Dolan cannot be so easily circumvented.

Despite respondent’s argument to the contrary, this case does not implicate Eastern Enterprises versus Apfel in which five Justices took the position that a governmental demand for money from an unspecified source cannot give rise to a taking.

Unlike the demand at issue in that case, here, the District’s demand burdened the ownership of a specific parcel of real property.

The judgment of the Florida Supreme Court is reversed.

Justice Kagan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor have joined.