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Despite Landmark Ruling, 20-Year Koontz Case Might Not Be Over Just Yet

Coy Koontz's heirs, and the American people, may have scored a major property rights victory with today's landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in the case ofKoontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, but that doesn't mean the case is dead.

Justices Ricky Polston and Charles Canady actually joined in the result of the 2011 Florida Supreme Court ruling, but not because they agreed with the reasoning. Instead, Polston and Canady said that under Florida law Koontz should have exhausted all the administrative remedies provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection before taking his case to court.

And in Tuesday's ruling, Justice Samuel Alito says that procedural question will now be one for the Florida courts to decide if the state decides not to drop its nearly 20-year case against Koontz and his estate. Stay tuned ...

In the meantime, the estate's lawyers are celebrating the ruling as an unmitigated victory. AttorneyPaul Beard of the Pacific Legal Foundation, the libertarian public-interest law firm that represents Koontz and his estate in the proceedings, has issued the following statement:

Todays ruling says the Fifth Amendment protects landowners from government extortion, whether the extortion is for money or any other form of property.

The ruling is a powerful victory for everybodys constitutional property rights, from coast to coast. The Koontz family was challenging permit demands that were wildly excessive and had no connection to their land use proposal. Today, the court recognized that the Koontz family was the victim of an unconstitutional taking. The courts message is clear: Government cant turn the land use permitting process into an extortion machine.

The ruling underscores that homeowners and other property owners who seek permits to make reasonable use of their property cannot be forced to surrender their rights. Regulators cant hold permit applicants hostage with unjustified demands for land or other concessions -- including, as in this case, unjustified demands for money.

The court has recognized that money is a form of property, and the Constitution prohibits grabbing money from property owners the same way it prohibits grabbing land without compensation.

The Koontz family sought permission to develop a few acres in Central Florida, and they were told they must spend up to $150,000 to improve the governments property, miles away from the Koontz familys land. This demand was far in excess of any impact that their land use proposal would create. They fought this injustice in the courts for nearly two decades, and today they have won a landmark decision, for themselves and all property owners. Their victory protects all permit applicants from government extortion. Everyone who values constitutional property rights owes the Koontz family a debt of gratitude for this historic victory."

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