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.

Rafaeli, LLC v. Oakland County

Michigan County Steals House for $8 Debt

In 2014, Oakland County, Michigan foreclosed on a home owned by Uri Rafaeli’s business—Rafaeli, LLC—over an $8.41 tax debt. The County sold the property for $24,500, and kept profits. Ditto for Andre Ohanessian, when the County seized and sold his property for $82,000, and pocketed every penny left over from the $6,000 tax debt. While most states refund the surplus, Michigan is among a handful of states that allow property theft to fill government coffers. PLF has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to strike down this bureaucratic theft and restore our clients’ constitutional rights.

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Knick v. Scott Township, Pennsylvania

Property owners’ rights are a matter of grave concern

A town ordinance permits unrestricted public access to any private property that might contain graves and authorizes town agents to search the property for graves without a warrant or consent. PLF represents Rose Mary Knick, a single woman who lives alone on her property which is alleged to contain some sort of ancient private burial site. On Ms. Knick’s behalf, PLF sued to invalidate the law as an unconstitutional infringement of property owners’ right to exclude members of the public from their land, and a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against warrantless searches.

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Santa Barbara Association of Realtors v. City of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara City Council

Homeowners Coerced into Unconstitutional Administrative Searches

A City of Santa Barbara ordinance requires that anyone selling his or her home allow the City to conduct an unconstitutional search of the inside and outside of the house and of the yard. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people from unconstitutional searches, particularly in their homes, and PLF is fighting back.

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Town of Coos Bay, Oregon v. National Marine Fisheries Service

Endangered Species Act abuse forces federal zoning control on local communities

Federal bureaucrats are twisting environmental and emergency management law to control zoning across Oregon, including its treasured coastal regions. At issue is a National Marine Fisheries Service opinion that governs FEMA’s national flood insurance program. Under the rule, local communities wanting federal flood insurance must abstain from economic development—purportedly to protect endangered species. PLF has stepped in on behalf of Coos Bay, a town that won’t stand for this blatant abuse of the law.

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Waters of the United States

PLF at the Supreme Court: Fighting EPA power grab of all U.S. waters

It’s now up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if the EPA can stretch federal control to nearly every pond, ditch, and puddle in the nation. On October 11, justices heard arguments in National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, a consolidated case which included an extensive array of our clients. We challenged the EPA’s 2015 proposed rule as being nothing more than an outrageous – and illegal – power grab under cover of the Clean Water Act.

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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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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.

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky

U.S. Supreme Court will review Minnesota’s fashion (non)sense

The U.S. Supreme Court announced it will review our case challenging a Minnesota election law that literally strips free speech rights from the backs of voters. The law bans voters from wearing any “political” apparel at a polling place. This includes any t-shirt, button, or other items that could be construed as political, or even organizations that take political positions such as the AFL-CIO or NRA. Voters who don’t cover or remove the apparel could face prosecution and fines of up to $5,000. The high court will likely hear the case in the spring.

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K.J. v. Minnesota State High School League

School athletics can’t turn kids away based on their sex

Kaiden Johnson loves competitive dance, and he is a valued member of the varsity dance team at Superior High School in Superior, Wisconsin. But the team primarily competes against high schools across the river in Duluth, Minnesota—and the Minnesota State High School League has a “girls only” policy for dance teams.

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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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Book Passage v. Becerra

Saving free speech one book at a time

In the wake of a First Amendment challenge by Bay Area book seller Bill Petrocelli and his renowned store, Book Passage, California has rescinded the state’s onerous “certificate of authenticity” requirement for the sale of autographed books. The regulation would have made it extremely risky, if not impossible, for stores to sell signed books or host author events.

Under the former law, sellers of any autographed good worth over $5—including books—were required to provide a Certificate of Authenticity that included details about the transaction and the personal information about buyers and previous owners. Any omission, or failing to maintain the records for seven years, resulted in outrageous fines. Following PLF’s lawsuit, the legislature passed AB 228, which exempts books from the mandates.

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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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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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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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Rinehart v. California

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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