Friday, January 18, 2013

Need a Plain-Language Summary of Koontz?

My last post dealt in detail with the my observations following oral arguments in Koontz v. St Johns River Water Management District, No. 11-1447 (argued Jan. 15, 2012). With good timing, the Hillsborough County Bar Association recently published my plain-language introduction to the case in its magazine, Lawyer (p. 41). It's excerpted below for easy reading.

Florida Once Again on the Forefront of Takings Law

In the development approval process, governments commonly require a dedication of real property to mitigate adverse impacts. But what if the request is for cash or for services? What if the request is unreasonable, and the landowner cannot use the property?

Land use lawyers and urban planners wonder if these questions will be answered now that the U.S. Supreme Court has granted review of Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, No. 11-1447 (cert. granted Oct. 5, 2012). In what could be the most important land use decision in years, Koontz questions common bargaining practices that governments use when negotiating development permits.

An exaction is a government requirement to donate something in exchange for the right to develop property. Generally, the government cannot force landowners to give up the right to exclude others from property in return for the ability to develop it. It can, however, require mitigation of adverse development impacts.

If the mitigation involves access to real property, there must be an “essential nexus” and a “rough proportionality” between the exaction and the interest that the exaction is advancing. Dolan v. Tigard, 512 U.S. 374, 391 (2005); Nollan v. Cal. Coastal Com., 483 U.S. 825, 837 (1987). Otherwise, the government must pay just compensation because the landowner has lost the ability to exclude others from the property.

In Koontz, the government agreed to issue a permit if the landowner would work on government-owned culverts and canals seven miles away. The landowner refused, and the government denied the permit. When the landowner brought an inverse condemnation suit, the trial court and the Fifth DCA found the exaction illegal. The Florida Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Nollan-Dolan test only applied to exactions of real property, where a permit was actually issued imposing the onerous exaction. St. Johns River Water Mgmt. Dist. v. Koontz, 77 So. 3d 1220 (Fla. 2011).

Now, the landowner asks the U.S. Supreme Court if exactions law applies beyond real property. That is, can the government make unreasonable requests for money and for work, when it cannot for property? Second, the landowner asks if a taking can occur where a permit is denied because an applicant rejects an illegal exaction. In other words, does the landowner have to accede to an unreasonable exaction in order to challenge it? This latter question is the more problematic for governments, since it could increase their exposure to takings litigation and limit a lucrative funding source.

These days, Florida is a hotbed of property rights litigation. Three years ago, Florida was defending its beach renourishment program before the U.S. Supreme Court. Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Fla. Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 130 S. Ct. 2592 (2010). That case broke new ground when a plurality of justices acknowledged that a court can take property, just as the legislative and executive branches can. Will Florida again be on the forefront of takings law?