President’s weekly report — April 26, 2013

April 26, 2013 | By ROB RIVETT

Don’t forget to tune in to our weekly PLF Podcast for the latest updates and interviews with PLF’s clients and lawyers about our many cases across the country. And if you aren’t already following TheCoastWatch on Twitter, please do check it out for news about the California Coastal Commission—including live-tweeting from all of the Commission’s meetings. Also, you can sign up for PLF’s email updates here.

Here’s what we’ve been working on this week:

Individual Rights – Tax Limitation

In Schmeer v. County of Los Angeles, we filed this brief urging the California Supreme Court to review a lower court decision which held that laws forcing grocers collect ten cents per paper bag isn’t a tax subject to Proposition 13’s voter approval requirement. As PLF attorney Ralph Kasarda explains in this blog post, Schmeer is just the latest ghoulish development of California’s tax-zombie apocalypse.

Environment – Endangered Species and Timberland Without Timber

Our environmental section has been especially busy this week—not surprising, since it Monday was “Earth Day.” We celebrated with a couple blog posts on the real issues behind environmental regulation—and by filing our complaint in California Cattlemen’s Association v. Jewell on Wednesday, challenging the Fish & Wildlife Service’s failure to act on our petition to delist or “downlist” several species, including the Inyo California towhee, the arroyo toad, the Indian Knob mountain balm, the Lane Mountain milk-vetch (that’s a plant), the Modoc sucker (a fish), and the Santa Cruz cypress. What’s ironic about this (and similar) cases is that our petition is based on data generated by the agency itself, and the agency’s own conclusion that the species should be delisted or downlisted. Yet for some reason, the agency refuses to act. As explained in our blog post, the Service’s delay is not a mere matter of bureaucratic delay, it is harming real people, right now.

We also filed our opening brief today in our appeal of the listing of the Green Sturgeon. We argue that the critical habitat designation is unwarranted. And in our case challenging the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas “endangerment finding,” the American Civil Rights Union and the California Construction Trucking Association filed amicus briefs asking the Court to grant our petition and hear the case.

We were disappointed by the California Court of Appeal’s unpublished April 19 decision in JHP LLC v. Japp. We had filed an amicus brief in support of JHP, arguing that the court should reject CalFire’s expansive interpretation of “timberland,” in order to avoid the absurd result of rendering nearly the entire state “timberland”—and thus subject to the agency’s jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the court rejected that argument, although it did cite our brief and responded to many of our points. In the end, the court did rule that the trial judge had ruled wrongly with regard to another argument that JHP made, and returned the case to the trial judge.

Property Rights – Rails to Trails

In Brandt v. United States, we filed this brief supporting the certiorari petition by our friends at the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which is asking the Supreme Court to consider the taking of private property under something called “Rails to Trails.” Back in the Nineteenth Century, railroads acquired easements all over the country in order to lay tracks. These easements were typically written so that they would revert back to the property owner in the event the railroads ever abandoned the easements. But in 1988, Congress passed a “railbanking” statute which holds that upon abandonment, these easements could be morphed into a public trail easement, with the fee owner receiving no compensation. A number of landowners across the country have sued, often successfully, for the compensation to which the Constitution entitles them. In this case, however, the United States brought a quiet title action claiming that there is an “implied reversionary interest” in the easements that trumps the landowners’ interest. We are asking the Supreme Court to take this case up, primarily because there is no such thing in property law as an “implied reversionary interest in an easement” that somehow overrides the constitutional guarantee of just compensation whenever a property owner’s land is taken away.

Individual Rights – Charter Schools

We had an excellent development in California Charter School Association v. Los Angeles Unified School District last week. That case deals with the extent to which school districts have to provide “reasonably equivalent” classroom space to charter schools. We had filed this amicus brief, and now the California Supreme Court has agreed to consider the case. This is very important, because it will be the first time that the state Supreme Court will interpret the scope of Proposition 39, California’s charter school initiative.

That’s it for this week. Next week we’ll be back at it—rescuing liberty from coast to coast!