Cases

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Seider v. City of Malibu

Property rights on the line in family’s battle for beachfront signage

Dennis and Leah Seider simply want to alert beachgoers to where the public right of access to the beach ends, the Seiders’ private Malibu property begins, and the way to the nearby public beach. Their best hope to protect their property rights and avoid potential confrontations with beachgoers would be a sign. But that hope faded when they le ...

cement building Adamski v. California Coastal Commission

Builders battle the California Coastal Commission’s basement ban

When Chris Adamski, a Monterey County, California contractor, and his longtime mentor and friend Mike Pietro bought four properties in the county’s Carmel Point neighborhood in 2014, they planned to develop two houses to sell, and then build one house for each of them—Chris for his large family, and Mike for retirement. The California Coast ...

foreclosure Barnette v. HBI, LLC

Taking tax-foreclosed property requires proper notice

In 2002, Walter Barnette was working in the Omaha suburb of Bellevue when he spotted an acre of land in a growing neighborhood. Though he lives across the nearby border with Iowa, he bought the property with the intent of one day building a home. Walter fell on hard times, however, and failed to pay his 2010 and 2011 property taxes—$986.50—to S ...

Shands v. City of Marathon

Government takes family’s land and uses gimmicks to avoid paying for it

The Shands family has owned Shands Key, a small Florida island, since the 1950s. Purchased by World War II surgeon and Mississippi hospital owner Dr. R.E. Shands, the island was originally zoned for residential use and could have been developed with at least seven homes. Today, however, government regulations designed to protect the environment pro ...

Donnelly v. City of San Marino

Holding local California governments accountable for banning “granny flats”

Accessory dwelling units, better known as “in-law apartments” or “granny flats,” have long been recognized as a valuable and essential component of California’s response to the state’s worsening housing shortage. So essential in fact, state law establishes a right to build ADUs, severely limiting local government ...

Warren Lent v. California Coastal Commission

Massive—and unconstitutional—beach access fines threaten family home

In 2016, the Lents received the California Coastal Commission’s first ever fine—$4.185 million—for blocking public access to the beach. The home sits 20 feet above the beach and, without stairs or a ramp, the public cannot safely get to the beach. The property originally included an outdoor stairway and a gate to block the large drop—bo ...

Freedom Foundation v. Washington Dept. of Ecology

State agency Scrooge violates Santa’s First Amendment rights

Each year around the holidays, Washington-based Freedom Foundation sends staff members to the lobbies of state agency buildings. These staffers—dressed as Santa—hand out leaflets that explain state employees’ right to opt out of union dues. Allowed by most agencies, the Washington Department of Ecology in 2017 instead prohibited the leafl ...

Race-based quotas in Connecticut Robinson v. Wentzell

Race-based quotas in Connecticut schools are unconstitutional and hurt Black and Hispanic students

Hartford, Connecticut, runs a number of world-class magnet schools. Their success has led to the use of a lottery to decide who can attend. But under a state-mandated racial quota, enrollment must be at least 25 percent white or Asian. This means Black and Hispanic students are turned away if their admission would push minority enrollment above 75 ...

Free speech Nemhauser v. City of Mount Dora

City apologizes after violating First Amendment rights

What started as artistic expression in Mount Dora, Florida, escalated into a bureaucratic nightmare for Nancy Nemhauser and Lubomir Jastrzebski. When the couple painted a van Gogh-style “The Starry Night” mural on a wall outside their house, the city declared the art “graffiti” because it didn’t match the color of the ...

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

Santa Barbara Violates Fourth Amendment Rights of Property Owners

Under an impermissibly vague Santa Barbara ordinance, home owners wishing to sell their residential property are required to allow the city to enter and conduct unconstitutional warrantless searches prior to sale. Failure to comply with this unconstitutional condition exposes the home owner to possible criminal and civil penalties. The Fourth Amend ...

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 a ...

Lucia v. Securities and Exchange Commission

Administrative concentration of judge-jury-executioner violates the Constitution

In 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Raymond Lucia and his former investment company with violating federal securities laws and regulations. He was prosecuted in an administrative enforcement action overseen by an Administrative Law Judge employed by the SEC. The ALJ permanently barred Mr. Lucia from working as an investment advi ...

S.S. v. Colorado River Indian Tribes

Federal law deprives American Indian children of the “best interest of the child” standard in custody determinations

Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to address the problem of unjustified removal of Indian children from their parents by “nontribal public and private agencies” and their placement in “non-Indian foster and adoptive homes and institutions.” That concern is absent in a private action for termination of pare ...

Benedetti v. County of Marin, California

Marin County adopts unconstitutional “forced farming” plan

Marin County’s new Land Use Plan requires landowners who currently use their land for agricultural purposes to remain “actively and directly engaged” in agriculture in perpetuity. This requirement is tied to building permits within the county’s agricultural zone. For PLF client Willie Benedetti, owner of Benedetti Farms and ...

616 Croft Ave., LLC v. City of West Hollywood, California

In West Hollywood, new homes = government license to steal

Shelah and Jonathan Lehrer-Graiwer became victims of government extortion in West Hollywood, California over new condos. A city ordinance purports to address an affordable housing problem by demanding builders either sell a percentage of new homes at below-market rates or pay hefty “affordable housing” fees. Our clients were squeezed fo ...

Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Board

The state has no “public trust” power over groundwater

Environmentalists sued the State of California and Siskiyou County on the theory that the government’s failure to regulate groundwater violates the public trust doctrine. This doctrine traditionally applies only to navigable waters and entrusts the government with the responsibility to preserve the land and resources for productive, recreatio ...

Lynch v. California Coastal Commission

California erodes landowners’ right to protect their property and their ability to challenge government action

The Lynch family sought permission from the California Coastal Commission to repair a storm-damaged seawall and stairway that led from their home at the top of a bluff down to the beach. The Commission permitted the seawall restoration with a condition that they seek an additional permit in the future, and denied the permit for the stairway. To pro ...

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