Earlier today, I wrote about the win for landowners in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Mgmt. Dist.
, No. 11-447 (June 25, 2013). On reading the opinion, my favorite line so far:
Extortionate demands for property in the land use permitting context run afoul of the Takings Clause not because they take property but because they impermissibly burden the right not to have property taken without just compensation. As in other unconstitutional conditions cases in which someone refuses to cede a constitutional right in the face of coercive pressure, the impermissible denial of a governmental benefit is a constitutionally cognizable injury.
Here's a roundup of commentary thus far:
So how will the federal courts eventually exit this quagmire? The answer might be remedial equivocation. Nollan-Dolan has so far mostly been a dead letter in zoning litigation, because the remedy in lower courts has usually (although not universally) been restoration of the pre-exaction status quo in which the developer is unconditionally denied the desired permission to build. (See Goss v. City of Little Rock, (8th Cir. 1996), for an example of how this remedy guts the right, or read Mark Fenster's Failed Exactions). Such a remedy means that developers will rarely sue, and the ones that do sue get nothing for their troubles. Koontz did nothing to disturb this remedial equivocation, declaring that "[b]ecause petitioner brought his claim pursuant to a state law cause of action,the Court has no occasion to discuss what remedies might be available for a Nollan/Dolan unconstitutional conditions violation either here or in other cases" (Slip op. at 11).
This may be the most important sentence in the opinion -- a hint at the SCOTUS's "exit strategy" when developers start challenging plazas, parks, playgrounds, and the like. San Remo Hotel v. San Francisco severely limits developers' power to bring a federal takings claim in federal court: If state courts can continue to define the Nollan-Dolan remedy as invalidation of the illegal condition and denial of the zoning permission, then Koontz will be a practical dead letter. And a good thing, too, if one cares about federalism and believes, as I do, that Nollan-Dolan was always a quixotic expedition to control land-use decisions far too numerous and fact-specific to be amenable to federal judicial policing.
- But Prof. Ilya Somin (George Mason) begs to disagree: "Overall, Koontz is the most important victory for property rights in the Supreme Court for a long time." That's because "Koontz addresses two major issues that previous Supreme Court cases had not covered: Whether the requirements of Nollan and Dolanapply when the government denies a permit, as opposed to issuing it with attached conditions, and whether those requirements apply to cases where the burden imposed by the government is an obligation to finance off-site “mitigation” as opposed to requiring the property owner to allow a physical invasion of his land. The Supreme Court majority answered “yes” to both questions. I think they got both of them right."