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Was Florida landowner victim of government 'shakedown'? Supreme Court rules.

The Supreme Court expanded protections for property owners, siding with a Florida landowner who said that in return for a development permit, officials were demanding he pay for work on unrelated government land.

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Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaks at the State Bar of Texas' annual meeting last week in Dallas. Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District. The Court ruled in favor of a landowner in a 5-4 decision that was announced this morning at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

LM Otero/AP

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The US Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a Florida landowner who complained that his attempt to develop a vacant parcel of his land was met with a “shakedown” by regulatory officials who sought to force him to pay for expensive improvements on unrelated government property.

Lawyers for the property owner, who said the officials refused to issue a development permit unless he agreed to pay for the improvements, argued that such extortionate demands by public officials amounted to an unconstitutional taking of private property for public use.

Voting 5 to 4, the high court agreed.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the demands of the Florida regulatory officials were excessive because they required the landowner to pay for a so-called “mitigation” project that had no connection to any adverse impact on the public allegedly resulting from the proposed development of his land.

Under existing legal precedents, Justice Alito wrote, government regulators were required to demonstrate that any private property being used by the public for mitigation in a development project must be connected to and proportionate to the anticipated public impacts of the project.

Tuesday’s decision is significant because it expands that constitutional protection to include government demands that a permit applicant spend money as part of mitigation related to a development permit.

“Today’s ruling says the Fifth Amendment protects landowners from government extortion, whether the extortion is for money or any other form of property,” said Paul Beard, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation.

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