Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District

June 25, 2013

Supreme Court of the United States

Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District  (Click for full text of Opinion)

June 25, 2013

     A property owner sought approval to develop land that was subject to wetland regulation by the water district.  The developer offered to offset the impact on the wetlands with a conservation easement.  However, the district rejected the proposal, and stated that it would not approve construction unless (1) the project were scaled back, and an easement covering the remaining portion of the property (over 75% of the total land area) be deeded to the district; and, (2) the developer pay for improvements on wetlands several miles away.

     The Court held that the district’s demands for property (the conservation easement) must satisfy the Nollan/Dolan Rough Proportionality analysis, even though the district denied the developer’s permit, and did not actually acquire the easement.  Extortionate demands for property in the land-use permitting context run afoul of the Takings Clause not because they actually take property, but because they impermissibly burden the right not to have property taken without just compensation.

     The Court also held that a demand for money (rather than property)  must also satisfy the Nollan/Dolan analysis.  Because the condition that the developer pay for improvements is directly linked to a proposed development, the central concern of both Nollan and Dolan are implicated–the risk that a government entity may deploy its substantial power to pursue governmental ends that lack the essential link and rough proportionality to the effects of the proposed use.