Koontz: The Very Worst Takings Decision Ever?
57 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2013 Last revised: 9 Jan 2015
Date Written: February 4, 2014
This article argues that Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, the most widely discussed of the Supreme Court’s takings trilogy in the 2012-13 term, represents a major, unprincipled break from prior law and casts an unfortunate pall of confusion and uncertainty over takings doctrine, partly reversing the Court’s recent, successful effort to make takings doctrine more coherent and predictable. The Court ruled that the relatively heightened standard of judicial review established by the Supreme Court for so-called “development exactions” in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard applies both (1) when the government denies a development permit after the developer rejects a government demand for an exaction as a condition of project approval, and (2) when a permit condition requires a developer to pay or expend money to mitigate project impacts. In so ruling, the Court rejected the position that claims challenging such government orders should be evaluated under either the Court’s relatively forgiving regulatory takings analysis or deferential due process analysis. Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent for herself and three other justices, arguing that the case did not involve an actual demand triggering Nollan and Dolan and that the standards established by those cases do not apply to permit conditions requiring the expenditure of money. This article contends that the Koontz decision is one of the worst decisions, if the not the worst decision, in the pantheon of Supreme Court takings cases. In doctrinal terms, the majority opinion flagrantly contradicts or ignores established precedent, fails to acknowledge its departure from prior law, and does not attempt to offer any new, coherent justifications for its novel holdings. As a practical matter, the decision creates a perverse, wasteful incentive for local officials to decline to work cooperatively with developers in designing projects that make business sense and protect the interests of the community. Finally, the decision injects new uncertainty into takings law, setting the stage for future debates over the legitimacy and appropriate scope of intrusive judicial review of local land use decision-making, including whether local governments retain the authority to reject development proposals based on unacceptable project impacts without triggering stringent judicial review.
Keywords: Koontz, Nollan. Dolan, Supreme Court, takings, property rights, exactions
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