President's weekly report — January 22, 2016

January 22, 2016 | By ROB RIVETT

We’re from the Government and we’re doing you a favor

That is essentially the government’s theme in its opening brief in Hawkes v. United States, our wetlands jurisdiction case at the Supreme Court. Our case is all about whether a property owner has a right to appeal a “wetlands jurisdictional determination” by the Corps of Engineers. Our point is that after the Corps says a property contains wetlands subject to federal jurisdiction, the landowners has some pretty bad alternatives: abandon the property, embark on a costly and lengthy permit process that isn’t needed, or use the property and risk huge fines and incarceration. But the government is saying, “heck, we don’t even have to tell you if your property contains wetlands, we’re doing you a favor by telling you that you are doomed.” With favors like that, who needs lawyers? We’re working on our response. In the meantime, you can read our blog post here.

PLF supports children in Florida over pure wind

We filed this amicus brief in School Board of Palm Beach County v. Florida Charter Education Foundation. This case represents yet another instance where the educational establishment is doing its level best to keep children from thriving in an alternative educational environment. The school board here denied a permit for a new charter school despite the proven track record of the charter school provider to do a better job at teaching students. The board said the new charter school wasn’t “innovative” enough.  Why not? Because it was going to employ the same innovative techniques that had worked so well at other charter schools. Perhaps the school board members should begin their own education by reading our brief and then reading a bit of George Orwell, who once wrote that political lies give solidarity to pure wind. For more, see our blog post here.

And speaking of school choice …

Be sure to check out our blog every day next week as we celebrate School Choice Week. We’ll have plenty of great facts and graphics explaining why it is so important that parents be able to choose the education that is best for their children.

Supporting the right to contract

PLF filed this amicus brief in McGill v. Citibank at the California Supreme Court. In a nutshell, this case involves yet another attempt by California courts to evade the federal law that protects lawful arbitration clauses in contracts from being ripped up by state judges. The contracts in question here were contained in credit card insurance plans. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld similar arbitration clauses and this case gives the California Supreme Court a chance to clear out the vestiges of the old anti-contract law. For more detail on the history of the California courts’ efforts to evade federal law, see our blog post here.

Regulation of nonfederal lands by the federal government

The Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument in Sturgeon v. Frost, in which the issue is whether the National Park Service can regulate activity on property it does not own but is located within the exterior boundaries of a National Park. Several justices were skeptical of the federal government’s argument that Congress has given the Park Service power over private and state property within Park boundaries. As PLF’s amicus brief argues, this concern is especially heightened where statutes creating the Park in question have specifically denied the Park Service any such power.

Texas Supreme Court sides with PLF on premises liability law

In Occidental Chemical Petroleum Corp. v. Jenkins, the Texas Supreme Court eliminated a property-rights-unfriendly exception to the state’s common law rules on premises liability. Specifically, the court held that, just as prior property owners are protected from liability from torts that arise on the property after its sale, such prior owners also should be protected from after-sale liability that arises from improvements to the property. PLF filed an amicus brief arguing for that sensible result.

Adverse decision in longstanding property rights dispute

In United States v. Hage, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the government and against the Hage family in a longstanding dispute over the family’s grazing and water rights. This part of the saga concerns the federal government’s trespass claim against the family for allegedly bringing their livestock to drink on federal land without a permit. The district court judge rejected that trespass claim, but also found that certain federal agency employees had mistreated and harassed the family in an effort to compel the family to forfeit their water rights. Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit’s decision reverses the district court on essentially every good point. PLF filed an amicus brief in support of the family.