Logo of the Pacific Legal Foundation
|Formation||March 5, 1973|
|Headquarters||930 G St|
(FYE December 2017)
Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is a conservative/libertarian public interest law firm in the United States. PLF was established for the purpose of defending and promoting individual and economic freedom in the courts. To that end, PLF attorneys provide pro bono legal representation to clients, file amicus curiae briefs, and participate in administrative proceedings with the goal of supporting property rights, equality before the law, freedom of speech and association, economic liberty, and separation of powers. They have represented clients in 14 cases before the United States Supreme Court.
PLF is a non-profit organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It does not charge for legal services, but instead is funded by donations from individuals (53%), foundations (17%), and associations, small businesses and corporations (17%). Except for court-awarded attorney fees for case victories, the organization receives no money from government.
- 1 History
- 2 Legal areas
- 3 Law school programs
- 4 Supreme Court cases
- 5 Finances
- 6 Notable people
- 7 See Also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Incorporated in Sacramento, California, on March 5, 1973, PLF's original staff was composed mainly of individuals who had been a part of then-Governor Ronald Reagan's welfare reform team. Operating on a proposed budget of $117,000 for the first 10 months of operation, PLF attorneys began litigation activities in June 1973 under the direction of Ronald A. Zumbrun, PLF's first president. Currently, PLF has a staff of over 30 attorneys and four offices across the United States: Sacramento, CA; Arlington, VA; Palm Beach Gardens, FL; and Seattle, WA.
PLF's property rights cases have focused on regulatory takings and over-reaching environmental regulations. The Foundation's attorneys have successfully argued five takings cases at the United States Supreme Court: Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Palazzolo v. Rhode Island, Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, and Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania.
PLF has litigated housing and zoning issues in lower courts. PLF successfully challenged San Francisco’s “Relocation Assistance Payment Ordinance,” which required landlords to pay tenants to regain personal use of their property. PLF has a case pending at the Michigan Supreme Court, challenging a common practice of counties foreclosing properties for unpaid taxes and keeping the surplus home equity.
PLF's environmental law litigation has frequently involved challenges to federal regulation of private property under the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act, including five victories at the U.S. Supreme Court. PLF attorneys represented a Minnesota property owner who was denied the right to build on his property in Contoski v. Scarlett, a case that resulted in the removal of the bald eagle from the endangered species list. PLF argued that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to delist the species after it concluded that the bald eagle population had recovered.
PLF represented Andy Johnson in a dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency. Johnson built a stock pond on his property in Wyoming to provide water for his cattle. EPA found that he had violated the Clean Water Act, demanded that he remove the pond, and fined him $37,500 per day. Wyoming’s senators called the agency’s action “heavy-handed bureaucracy.” The case was settled in 2016, with EPA dropping the fines and demands, and Johnson agreeing to plant willow trees to protect the ground from erosion.
PLF argues that certain licensing laws and similar regulations violate the individual right to earn a living and result in a loss of jobs and a lower standard of living for Americans. PLF has battled against “Certificate of Need (CON)” laws in multiple states that require new entrants to a job market to receiver a “certificate of need” from the government to which businesses currently engaged in the occupation may object to the competition. PLF represented several moving companies challenging their state's CON laws. PLF represented Arty Vogt from Lloyd’s Transfer & Storage in a challenge to West Virginia’s CON law regulating interstate movers, which required new moving companies in the state to be approved by incumbents. The case concluded in 2017 when the state passed a law effectively repealing the regulation.
In 2008, PLF won Merrifield v. Lockyer, a challenge to California licensing of pest control. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “economic protectionism for its own sake, regardless of its relation to the common good, cannot be said to be in the furtherance of a legitimate governmental interest.”
Equality under the law
PLF has participated in cases challenging government-sponsored race and sex preferences, both under the federal Constitution's Equal Protection Clause and state constitutional provisions such as California's Proposition 209 and Washington's Initiative 200. In 2018, PLF filed a number of lawsuits on behalf of boys seeking to compete on high school dance teams. In South Dakota, the South Dakota High School Activities Association changed their regulations to allow boys to compete in competitive dance following PLF’s lawsuit. Additionally, the Minnesota State High School League also amended their rules to allow boys in competitive dance following lawsuits filed by PLF on behalf of two male students. In 2019, PLF, representing a group of black and Hispanic parents, filed a federal lawsuit arguing that Connecticut's enrollment standards for its magnet schools are discriminatory. Connecticut caps the enrollment of black and Hispanic students in magnet schools at 75%, while no less than 25% of students can be white or Asian.
In 2018, PLF sued New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, challenging his proposed changes to the admissions policies of New York City’s specialized high schools. De Blasio proposed expanding the Discovery program, which admits students just under the cutoff for the admissions test, from 6% to 20% of all students accepted, a move which he claimed would increase black and Hispanic diversity in those schools. PLF represents Asian-American parents and advocacy groups who claim that the mayor’s plans discriminates against Asian-American students and amounts to unconstitutional racial balancing.
Freedom of speech and association
PLF successfully challenged Minnesota polling place laws that violated voters' right to free speech in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky. The Supreme Court held 7-2 in favor of PLF’s client, the Minnesota Voters Alliance, finding that the state’s restrictions on clothing worn in the polling place were not reasonable and violated the First Amendment. PLF was also instrumental in overturning a Virginia law banning the advertising of happy hours, suing on behalf of restaurateurs who could not advertise drink specials in the state in violation of the First Amendment.
Separation of powers
PLF has litigated several cases arguing for citizen access to judicial review. In Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court held that the Sacketts could go to court to challenge an EPA compliance order. In U.S. Army Corp of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., Inc, the Court held that a jurisdictional determination that the property in question constituted “water of the United States” was a final agency action subject to judicial review.
In 2017, PLF began studying and commenting on the Congressional Review Act as a tool to eliminate regulations. In 2018, they filed two lawsuits demanding that regulatory agencies follow the CRA and submit their new rules to Congress.
In 2018, PLF launched a campaign to end the unconstitutional regulatory state through litigation, legislation, and executive action, focusing on restoring an original understanding of the separation of powers. PLF launched a legal challenge of FDA’s Deeming Rule, arguing that it was signed by a career civil servant, rather than an officer of the United States as required by the appointments clause of the Constitution. In 2019, PLF released a study of 2,952 rules issued by HHS between 2001 and the beginning of the Trump administration which found that 71% were issued unconstitutionally; the majority being signed by career executive employees, not "an officer of the United States." The study found that 98% of the FDA's rules issued in that time period were issued by career employees.
In the early 1980s, PLF was lead plaintiff in one of the first known Strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) suits in the U.S., which attempted to obtain the mailing list of the Abalone Alliance to get the group to pay for the police costs of the largest anti-nuclear civil-disobedience act in U.S. history, at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. The case was rejected multiple times for PLF's lack of standing, and was eventually dismissed altogether. The PLF stated that it did receive funding from utility companies, but would not disclose whether PG&E, the plant's owner, had contributed.
Law school programs
PLF operates a "Liberty Clinic" at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law, where a PLF attorney supervises a trial-court program as part of the law school’s Constitutional Jurisprudence Clinic. Students in the clinic have hands-on roles in on-going court cases and learn how strategic litigation works.
Berkeley Law School
In 2018, PLF began teaching a seminar and field placement at UC Berkeley School of Law on strategic constitutional litigation. The seminar, taught by PLF Executive Vice President and General Counsel John M. Groen, focuses on property rights and economic liberty. In the field placement, students join a PLF litigation team to work on on-going court cases.
Supreme Court cases
PLF has litigated a number of cases before the United States Supreme Court. Its 12 victories are:
- Nollan v. California Coastal Commission (1987): Justice Scalia ruled that if California wished to use its power of eminent domain to take beachfront property for public use, it must provide just compensation to the Nollans and other beachfront property owners for the public use of their land.
- Keller v. State Bar of California (1990): A unanimous Court held that, "The State Bar's use of petitioners' compulsory dues to finance political and ideological activities with which petitioners disagree violates their First Amendment right of free speech when such expenditures are not necessarily or reasonably incurred for the purpose of regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services."
- Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (1997): A unanimous Court held that property owners do not have to attempt to sell their transferable development rights before they can claim a regulatory taking of property.
- Palazzolo v. Rhode Island (2001): The Court held that property owners may challenge land use restrictions that were enacted before they acquired the property. Justice Kennedy wrote that “Future generations, too, have a right to challenge unreasonable limitations on the use and value of land.”
- Rapanos v. United States (2006): The Court rejected the Army Corps of Engineers’ broad definition of wetlands subject to federal jurisdiction, but left unanswered the question of whether the phrase "waters of the United States" in the Clean Water Act includes a wetland that at least occasionally empties into a tributary of a traditionally navigable water.
- Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (2012): Argued by PLF attorney Damien M. Schiff, the case challenged EPA's practice of unilaterally asserting jurisdiction over private property without a hearing and without judicial review. In a unanimous opinion, the Court sided with PLF and the Sacketts, ruling that EPA's compliance orders are subject to immediate judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
- Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District (2013): The Court considered the issue of whether the Nollan and Dolan nexus limitation and proportionality test apply to an exaction in the form of a government demand that the permit applicant make off-site improvements; and whether these same Nollan and Dolan doctrines extend to permit exactions, where the permit has been denied due to the applicant's rejection of that exaction. The Supreme Court found favor of the property owner on June 25, 2013.
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawke Co., Inc. (2016): The Court held that the Army Corps of Engineers’ jurisdictional determination that the property in question constituted “water of the United States” was a final agency action subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
- National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense (2018): The Court unanimously ruled that the EPA cannot shelter its “waters of the United States” rule from judicial review by arbitrarily limiting where victims can sue.
- Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky (2018): The Court ruled that a Minnesota statute prohibiting individuals from wearing political apparel at a polling place violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
- Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2018): In this case the government, under the Endangered Species Act, designated private land in Louisiana as a potential “critical habitat” for the dusky gopher frog, enjoining the plaintiffs' use of the land. However, the dusky gopher frog does not inhabit the land, nor is the land currently suitable for use as its habitat. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that it cannot be a critical habitat if it is not a habitat and remanded to the 5th Circuit to determine what is a habitat under the Act.
- Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania, et al (2019): The Court overruled Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank finding that plaintiffs do not have to first file a claim in state court in order to have standing to file a Fifth Amendment takings claim in federal court. Williamson required plaintiffs claiming the local government has taken property without just compensation to file an inverse-condemnation suit in state court before a federal claim could be filed, however, losing at the state court level often barred plaintiffs from filing a claim in federal court. This ruling gives plaintiffs in local takings claims cases the same rights to address their claims in federal courts as other Constitutional claims plaintiffs.
At the California Supreme Court, PLF principal attorney Sharon L. Browne won two significant victories upholding the constitutionality of Proposition 209.
- Damien M. Schiff, senior attorney
- Brian Cartwright, trustee
- John C. Harris, trustee
- John C. Yoo, trustee
- Carol Platt Liebau, trustee
- From GuideStar: https://pdf.guidestar.org/PDF_Images/2017/942/197/2017-942197343-0f90e4e6-9.pdf, at the PLF page: https://www.guidestar.org/profile/94-2197343
- Zumbrun, Ronald A. (2004). "Life, Liberty, and Property Rights," in Bringing Justice to the People: The Story of the Freedom-Based Public Interest Law Movement (Lee Edwards, ed.). Washington, DC: Heritage Books, ISBN 0-9743665-2-8, p.41-44
- Dolan, Maura (February 8, 1996). "Giving the Right Its Day in Court". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
- "Financials". Pacific Legal Foundation. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- "Submit A Case". Pacific Legal Foundation. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- "Donate". Pacific Legal Foundation. Retrieved 2019-05-09.
- Charles Murray, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty without Permission, page 146.
- Damon Root, Overruled: The Long War for Control of the U.S. Supreme Court, page 106.
- "Staff". Pacific Legal Foundation. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- Groover, Heidi. "Meet the Bellevue Libertarians Who Are Fighting Seattle's Progressive Housing Laws". The Stranger. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- "Levin v. City and County of San Francisco". Pacific Legal Foundation. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
- Tash, Debra (2017-03-20). "San Francisco fails in assault on Pacific Legal Foundation's big court win for local landlords". Citizens Journal. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
- Wsays, Rod (2018-12-31). "Michigan Supreme Court To Hear Case On Alleged Tax Foreclosure Abuse". Retrieved 2019-05-07.
- "CONTOSKI v. SCARLETT | D. Minn. | Judgment | Law | CaseMine". www.casemine.com. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- "Bald Eagle Delisting". www.fws.gov. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- "The bald eagle still flying high". Pacific Legal Foundation. 2010-12-20. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
- "govinfo". www.govinfo.gov. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
- Healy, Jack (2015-09-18). "Family Pond Boils at Center of a 'Regulatory War' in Wyoming". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
- Cama, Timothy (2016-05-10). "EPA settles with Wyoming farmer over man-made pond". TheHill. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
- "Economic Liberty". Pacific Legal Foundation. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- ""Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity" for moving companies: the Competitor's Veto". Pacific Legal Foundation. 2013-11-17. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- "Federal judge rules in favor of Wildcat Moving in its battle to overturn 'anti-competitive' state law". kentucky. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- "Finally, a right to move — and to compete — in West Virginia". Washington Examiner. 2017-07-05. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
- Shapiro, Ilya (2008-09-22). "Big Victory for Economic Liberty". Cato Institute. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
- "Freedom of Speech and Association". Pacific Legal Foundation. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- Hayworth, Bret. "South Dakota boy takes legal action to dance on girls teams in competitions". Sioux City Journal. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- Leigh, Erika. "Local dancers react to SDHSAA temporary overturning competition ban for boys". www.ksfy.com. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- Press, St Paul Pioneer (2019-04-23). "Minnesota boys to be allowed on high school dance teams". www.duluthnewstribune.com. Retrieved 2019-04-23.
- Cohen, Rachel M. (2019-02-11). "A Lawsuit Threatens a Groundbreaking School-Desegregation Case". ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- Kauffman, Matthew. "Suit Challenges Sheff Magnet-School Lottery Process". courant.com. Retrieved 2019-05-09.
- Camera, Lauren (2018-12-14). "Asian-Americans Sue New York City Over School Desegregation Plan". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 2019-05-09.
- Shapiro, Eliza (2018-12-14). "Challengers of Affirmative Action Have a New Target: New York City's Elite High Schools". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-09.
- "Opinion analysis: Court strikes down Minnesota ban on "political" apparel at the polls". SCOTUSblog. 2018-06-14. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- Hankerson, Mechelle (2019-01-23). "With the state facing a lawsuit, lawmakers move on lifting happy hour restrictions". Virginia Mercury. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- Tracy, Geoff. "I fought for and won the right to advertise happy hour in Virginia".
- https://www.oyez.org/cases/2011/10-1062 and Charles Murray, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty without Permission, page 170-171.
- Zeppos, Philip A. Wallach and Nicholas W. (2017-04-04). "Is the Congressional Review Act about to supercharge deregulation?". Brookings. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
- "A Congressional Review Act 'Game-Changer' Steps into the Spotlight". Competitive Enterprise Institute. 2017-03-03. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
- "Pacific Legal Foundation files suit to enforce CRA". Retrieved 2019-04-30.
- "Restoring the Indispensable Protection for Liberty". National Review. 2018-04-12. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
- "3 New Lawsuits Challenge the FDA's Deeming Rule". Vaping360. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
- Olson, Walter (2018-02-07). "PLF files legal challenge to FDA vaping rules". Overlawyered. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
- Tolliver, Sandy (2019-04-29). "1,860 unconstitutional FDA rules". TheHill. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
- Pring, George W.; Canan, Penelope (1995). SLAPPs: getting sued for speaking out. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. p. 94. ISBN 9781566393690.
- Turner, Wallace (February 14, 1982). "Nuclear Protest Leads to Lawsuit". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
- "Constitutional Jurisprudence Clinic". www.chapman.edu. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
- on YouTube
- "Berkeley". Pacific Legal Foundation. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
- "KELLER v. STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA". FindLaw. U.S. Supreme Court. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
- "SUITUM v. TAHOE REGIONAL PLANNING AGENCY". FindLaw. U.S. Supreme Court. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
- "PALAZZOLO v. RHODE ISLAND". FindLaw. U.S. Supreme Court. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
- "RAPANOS v. UNITED STATES [04-1034]". FindLaw. U.S. Supreme Court. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
- "No. 11-1447". U.S. Supreme Court. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
- "Waters of the United States". Pacific Legal Foundation. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
- "Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky". Pacific Legal Foundation. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
- "Opinion analysis: Frogs and humans live to fight another day". SCOTUSblog. 2018-11-27. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
- "Weyerhaeuser/Markle v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service". Pacific Legal Foundation. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
- "Opinion analysis: Court overrules takings precedent, allowing more suits in federal court". SCOTUSblog. 2019-06-22. Retrieved 2019-06-25.
- U.S. Supreme Court (June 21, 2019). "Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania" (PDF). Supreme Court.
- See Hi-Voltage Wire Works v. San Jose (2000), 24 Cal.4th 537, 12 P.3d 1068, 101 Cal.Rptr.2d 653, No. S080318, Nov. 30, 2000; Coral Construction v. City and County of San Francisco, S152934 (Aug. 2, 2010).
- "Charity Navigator - Rating for Pacific Legal Foundation". Charity Navigator. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
- Official website
- Organizational Profile – National Center for Charitable Statistics (Urban Institute)