Property Rights

All Property Rights Cases

A society cannot flourish and individuals cannot advance their private interests without individual rights to create and productively use property. PLF litigates in several areas of law to secure property rights as the foundation of liberty.

At PLF, we: secure the right to the productive and ordinary use of land; prevent governments from taking property; fight unconstitutional or unlawful regulatory requirements; promote balance in environmental laws; and stop unreasonable searches and seizures.

Markle v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Common sense endangered by “critical habitat” designation of uninhabitable land

The federally-protected dusky gopher frog lives exclusively in a small area of Mississippi, in designated critical habitat. However, the government designated over 1500 acres of privately-owned land in Louisiana as “critical habitat,” even while acknowledging that the frog does not, and cannot, live there.

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Cherk Family Trust v. County of Marin, California

Marin County punishes elderly property owners with unconstitutional fees

When Dart and Esther Cherk needed to supplement their retirement income, they decided to split a 3-acre vacant lot in Marin County that had been in the family for six decades in order to sell both halves. As a condition of the lot split, however, the county demanded that they pay $40,000 as an “affordable housing” fee.

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Duarte Nursery v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Wheat farmer vs. the federal government: will the Constitution prevail?

John Duarte and Duarte Nursery, in rural Tehama County, California, received a cease and desist order from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for engaging in normal farming activities (i.e., plowing) that purportedly affected wetlands. Duarte was not permitted any type of hearing to defend himself.

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Ganson v. City of Marathon, Florida

Florida decides couple’s land is for the birds

The Beyer family owns a 9-acre island off the Florida coast that was reclassified from a general zoning designation to a bird rookery that permitted no use of the property other than temporary camping. Instead of offering compensation for this taking of property, as required by the Fifth Amendment, the city offered the Beyers only transferable development credits toward possible purchase of a limited number of development permits in other locations.

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Marquette County Road Commission v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

EPA’s arbitrary roadblock stops construction of local road

The Marquette County Road Commission in Michigan’s upper peninsula, wants to build a road through some undeveloped land to create a short-cut for heavy-duty trucks transporting ore from a local mine to its processing facility. The state environmental quality agency agreed, but the federal EPA vetoed the county’s permit application for vaguely stated “environmental reasons” even though the county planned to protect 26 acres of wetlands for every one acre of wetland filled by the project.

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National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Fish and Wildlife Service; Washington Cattlemen’s Association v. Fish and Wildlife Service

Unauthorized expansion of the ESA is a “take” of landowners’ rights

PLF filed parallel petitions asking the Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Interior to rescind an illegally-adopted regulation that extends the Endangered Species Act’s “take” prohibition to all threatened species, including those not yet listed. The ESA treats endangered and threatened species differently. The penalties for a “take” of an endangered species results in substantial civil and criminal penalties.

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Personal Liberties

All Personal Liberties Cases

The liberty protected by the Constitution encompasses your right to be free in the enjoyment of all of your abilities in the pursuit of happiness, including the right to express yourself in thought and action, to pursue the occupation of your choice, to live where you want, and to pursue the best education for you and your children.

At PLF, we: vindicate freedom of speech and association; defend the right to earn a living; support freedom in education; and uphold equal protection of the law, including freedom from racial discrimination.

The Book Passage v. Becerra

Saving free speech one book at a time

Bill Petrocelli is the owner of a beloved Bay Area bookstore, and is just one of hundreds of small business owners impacted by a new California law that violates basic notions of free speech. Author events at bookstores like Bill’s are vital to the free exchange of ideas. But the new law deters, if not effectively bans, these events by imposing outrageous regulations on the sales of autographed books.

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Minerva Dairy v. Brancel

Wisconsin flunks constitutional law with artisanal butter grading

Minerva Dairy, and its President, Adam Mueller, are challenging a Wisconsin law that prevents butter makers from outside the state from selling their products in Wisconsin unless they go through an arduous and costly process of getting their butter “graded.” Grading has nothing to do with quality or safety; it is graded by taste, as determined by government bureaucrats. Only Wisconsin has this type of law; neither the federal government nor any other state requires grading. Because Minerva Dairy makes artisanal butter that has its own unique taste, it does not want to submit to Wisconsin grading. Representing Minerva, PLF filed a lawsuit challenging the law as an unconstitutional violation of the Commerce Clause, Due Process, and Equal Protection.

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Elster v. City of Seattle, Washington

Seattle’s politician enrichment tax forces property owners to subsidize private political speech and violates the First Amendment

Representing Seattle residents and property owners, PLF sued to overturn Seattle’s ordinance mandating public campaign financing. Under the city’s “democracy voucher” program, each Seattle resident receives four $25 vouchers to support eligible candidates for local political office. The money to fund the voucher program is taken from the city’s property owners via a dedicated levy. The lawsuit argues that these compelled subsidies violate the First Amendment right to refrain from speaking – or funding the speech of another person.

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Fontenot v. Hunter, Attorney General of Oklahoma

A state cannot prevent truthful marketing of art as “American Indian-made.”

Peggy Fontenot is an award-winning American Indian photographer and artist, specializing in hand-made beaded jewelry and cultural items. A member of Virginia’s Patawomeck tribe, she has made her living for 30 years traveling the country to show and sell her American Indian art. She regularly participated in Oklahoma art festivals until local, politically-connected tribes convinced the state legislature to restrict the definition of “Indian tribe” to include only those tribes recognized by the federal government. The restriction was ostensibly to prevent the marketing and sale of art fraudulently described as “American Indian-made.” However, as a result of this law, Ms. Fontenot – a legitimate member of a state-recognized tribe – may no longer truthfully describe her art as “American Indian-made” in the state of Oklahoma.

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Krause v. School Board of Indian River County, Florida

Florida student teaches school a lesson about free speech

In May of his junior year at Vero Beach High School, J.P. Krause was on the verge of winning the senior class president election when he gave an impromptu campaign speech in his AP U.S. History class, with his teacher’s permission. The 90-second humorous speech skewered some of the tropes of the Trump campaign – “my opponent will raise taxes!” – and contained other satirical remarks. Krause won the election, but then his principal disqualified him from taking office because his speech allegedly “humiliated” the second-place finisher, in violation of the district’s anti-harassment policy. When PLF, representing J.P. and his mother, informed the school district by letter that its actions violated the First Amendment, the district quickly reversed course and reinstated J.P. as senior class president.

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Edmund Lee Jr. v. Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation

Elementary school student challenges racially-discriminatory school district transfer policy

As part of a decades-old desegregation lawsuit settlement in St. Louis, Missouri, the Voluntary Inderdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC) enacted a policy for city and county schools that prohibits African-American students who live in the county from transferring into magnet and charter schools within the St. Louis city limits. White students may transfer to these schools. African-American third grader Edmund Lee happily attended a charter school in the city and wanted to continue when his family moved out into the county. The policy prohibited his transfer because of his race. PLF represents Edmund and his mother, La’Shieka White, in a lawsuit challenging the policy as violating the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

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Procedural Guarantees

All Procedural Guarantees Cases

The Constitution establishes a separation of powers and express guarantees of due process. The fight for liberty is often a matter of ensuring that those who govern us do not exceed their constitutionally limited authority when enacting and enforcing the law.

At PLF, we: fight to end the modern administrative state, including limiting judicial deference to legislative and administrative judgments; restore separation of powers against improper delegation of authority to bureaucrats; define the limited scope of federal power under the Commerce Clause; revive the doctrine of enumerated powers; and ensure due process of law.

American Federation of Aviculture v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thriving golden parakeets no longer need Endangered Species Act protection

Thanks to the efforts of private breeders, the golden parakeet is no longer threatened with extinction. Although the federal government acknowledges the bird’s tenfold increase in numbers, it has refused to comply with a law that requires it to make a final decision to delist or downlist the parakeet within 12 months of that finding. On behalf of a coalition of breeders and bird owners, the American Federation of Aviculture, PLF is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force it to comply with the law, reclassify the golden parakeet, and lift onerous restrictions that prevent breeders from selling to all other breeders.

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California Cattlemen’s Association v. California Fish and Game Commission

Wandering lone wolf in California triggers “endangered” listing

Based on the sighting of a lone non-native gray wolf in California, the state Fish and Game Commission listed the gray wolf species under the California Endangered Species Act, effective January 1, 2017. On behalf of the California Cattlemen’s Association, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and their members, PLF sued to invalidate this illegal listing, which protects a non-native species at the expense of native species, ignores the growing wolf populations outside California, and upends a multi-year collaborative process among government, environmental, and ranching interests to balance wolf protection with livestock protection. 

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People v. Rinehart

Golden State no more? California bans gold prospecting

California’s original Forty-Niners made their fortunes in gold with shovels and pans. Modern-day prospectors use a “suction dredge” – a specialized vacuum – to suck up sediment from streams, extract the gold, and then return the sediment to the stream. Federal law not only permits but encourages suction dredge mining, even on federal lands, while states retain the right to require permits and regulate environmental impacts. Unsatisfied with this balanced approach, California banned suction-dredge mining entirely. Brandon Rinehart, who profitably mined his Nugget Alley claim in the Plumas National Forest for years, was convicted of violating the ban over his defense that the ban is preempted by the federal Mining Act of 1872.

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Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association v. Ross

President Obama’s abuse of Antiquities Act declares 5,000 square miles of ocean off-limits

The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the President to declare monuments on “land owned or controlled by the Federal government” to protect their historic or scientific value. On his way out of office, President Obama used this power to declare a 5,000 square mile area of the ocean to be the Northeast Canyons and Seamount Marine National Monument. Because the ocean is not “land owned or controlled by the Federal government,” PLF represents a coalition of fishing industry associations in a lawsuit challenging this abuse of the statute, which renders off-limits areas long used for sustainable commercial fishing near New England and the East Coast.

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Granat v. U.S. Department of Agriculture

Fighting to keep public lands open to all

Using the pretext of a transportation plan update, the U.S. Forest Service shut down thousands of previously accessible roads and trails – nearly 700 miles’ worth – within the Plumas National Forest. By forbidding any motor vehicle access, the policy prevents Amy Granat, who cannot walk unaided, from using a motorized vehicle to access vast areas of the forest. Granat and other recreational users of the forest are challenging the Service’s cavalier decision to withhold national forest land from members of the public without justification. The Service failed to comply with federal environmental laws that require a searching investigation of the impacts of barring access.

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Center for Biological Diversity v. Zinke

Congress’s power exceeds administrative agencies

The Center for Biological Diversity, a group that favors expansive government control over the environment, sued Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke when Congress voted, pursuant to the Congressional Review Act, to rescind an Alaska wildlife refuge rule related to predator control. CBD argues that the CRA is an unconstitutional abridgment of executive power, and that regulations cannot be rescinded by Congress unless it also rewrites the underlying legislation. Representing itself as well as a coalition of individual Alaskans and related organizations, PLF seeks to intervene in support of the rule’s rescission and the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act.

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