The Owners’ Counsel of America, a nationwide network of leading eminent domain attorneys dedicated to representing property owners, honored Coy Koontz, Jr. with the Crystal Eagle Award last week for the resolve and commitment that he, and his late father, exhibited in fighting for the right of private property ownership.
“My family and I have given up so much of our lives for this fight because we believe that owning your property ought to mean something– that the government can’t control you unreasonably,” said Coy Koontz, Jr. of the yet unsettled litigation with the St. Johns River Water Management District.
In 1994, Coy Koontz, Sr. applied to the St. Johns River Water Management District for the necessary permits to build on 3.7 of the 14.9 acres he purchased at the intersection of SR 50 and SR 408 near Orlando in 1972.
Koontz offered to mitigate the environmental impacts of the proposed development by deeding to the district a conservation easement across the remaining 11 acres. The district countered that Koontz should give up the right to build on all but one of the 15 acres. As an alternative, he was told the permit would be issued if he paid $150,000 to cover the cost of improvements to the District-owned land several miles away.
Koontz refused, believing the district’s demands were unreasonable. In August 1994, Koontz filed suit arguing that the district’s monetary exaction violated the Florida and U.S. Constitutions. He sought relief under Fla. Stat. 373.617(2), which allows property owners to recover “monetary damages” if a state agency’s action is “an unreasonable exercise of the state’s police power constituting a taking without just compensation.” After more than a decade of litigation, an Orange County judge struck down the monetary exaction, then awarded him $376,154.00 for the lost use of his land.
Koontz died in 2000, before seeing justice, and his son continued the battle all the way to the nation’s highest court. Florida argued that its monetary demand — as extortionate as it was — did not trigger constitutional review as a “taking” of Koontz’s property. In a resounding 5-4 victory for Koontz, the Supreme Court disagreed, holding that Koontz had a claim for a constitutional violation. Despite their success in the Supreme Court, the Koontz family has yet to see a penny.
“My father started this fight 20 years ago adn did not live to see the Supreme Court victory,” explained Coy Koontz, Jr. “I just hope the fight won’t outlive me.”
Each year, the Owners’ Counsel of America honors an individual who has made a substantial contribution toward protecting the right of property ownership with the Crystal Eagle Award, said Cathy Newman, Executive Director.
“OCA is honored to recognize Coy Koontz, Jr. and the Koontz family for their fortitude and endurance through nearly 20 years of legal wrangling with the government. By standing up for his own rights, Mr. Koontz has strengthened the property rights of all Americans. Coy Koontz is truly a champion of private property rights.”
About Owners’ Counsel of America (OCA):
The Owners’ Counsel of America is a nationwide network of experienced eminent domain attorneys dedicated to protecting the rights of private property owners large and small, locally and nationally, and to furthering the cause of property rights. The lawyers affiliated with OCA are in private practice in nearly every state and represent landowners against federal, state, and local governments, utilities, redevelopment authorities and other entities[slideshow_deploy id=’222′][slideshow_deploy id=’222′] that may possess the power of eminent domain. For more information or toe locate an eminent domain attorney in your state, please visit www.ownerscounsel.com
Michael Rikon is the OCA member for the state of New York.