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The James and Kathy Saboff Story

 When James and Kathy Saboff purchased a parcel of Florida waterfront property to build a house, they had no idea the transaction would mark the beginning of a tortuous property rights dispute that would take 14 years to resolve.

There was nothing extraordinary about the Saboffs' land. It simply was the last undeveloped lot in a residential subdivision. But in 1989, when they applied for a permit to build their house, the St. Johns Water Management District told them they could only build the house if they agreed to dedicate half of their property to a conservation easement. Although the district board later voted to ease the restriction on the Saboffs, environmental groups, including the Audubon Society, successfully appealed the decision. As a result, the Saboffs could not disturb most of their property lying between their house and the river. Unlike all of their neighbors, the Saboffs were prevented from clearing and using their own backyard.

The Saboffs filed a lawsuit against the St. Johns Water Management District claiming that its decision constituted a regulatory taking. A Florida trial court dismissed the Saboffs' claim, ruling that they could only get compensation if they were deprived of "all economically viable use" of the property. Undeterred, the Saboffs appealed the trial court decision to a state appeals court which ruled against them in 1996.

The Saboffs then filed a suit in federal district court which finally gave them the relief they had long sought. The court ruled that the Saboffs were owed compensation for a partial regulatory taking and awarded damages for violations of their rights to due process and equal protection. The jury awarded the couple $100,100 for the regulatory taking of more than half of their property. It also awarded them $14,000 because the district treated them unfairly compared to the other residents of the neighborhood.
Source: Florida Legal Foundation