President's weekly report — May 2, 2014

May 02, 2014 | By ROB RIVETT

Obamacare and the Constitution

Next week we will have oral argument in Sissel v. Department of Health and Human Services before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  This case is our challenge to Obamacare, where we are arguing that because the “individual mandate” is a tax it violates the “Origination Clause” of the Constitution because the original bill to raise revenue did not begin in the House of Representatives.  PLF’s Todd Gaziano testified before a House subcommittee this week on the original meaning of the Origination Clause.  You can watch it here and read the testimony here.

Property Rights – Another Victory in Koontz

In a great victory for Coy Koontz, Jr., the Florida Court of Appeals upheld the trial court decision awarding damages to Coy Koontz because of the unlawful permit denial in Koontz v. St. Johns Water Management District.  You will recall that the Florida Supreme Court overturned this decision, only to be reversed in turn by the United States Supreme Court, which sent the case back to Florida.  The government tried to persuade the court of appeal to reopen the case on issues that already been decided.  The Court refused with this decision.

Environment — Endangered Species and the Manatee

We filed this complaint on behalf of local landowners who are upset that the Fish & Wildlife Service refuses to act on our petition to downlist the Florida Manatee.  As our complaint in Save Crystal River v. Jewell points out, the government’s own data and findings from several years ago suggests that the Manatee should be downlisted from endangered to threatened, and there are many more Manatees today than there were when the government reached those conclusions.

Property Rights — Mandatory “Affordable Housing” shakedown.

On April 28, PLF attorneys filed this answer brief to Amicus Briefs of the Attorney General and local government organizations in California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose, our challenge to the City’s “affordable housing” shakedown scheme wherein builders of new homes must provide subsidized housing or money in exchange for a permit.  Our brief points out that affordable housing exactions do not mitigate any alleged negative impacts of building new homes.

Property Rights — Government Escapes Liability for Flooding

We had an adverse decision in Biron v. City of Redding, where the Birons had sought compensation after their apartment property was flooded after an inadequately designed and maintained storm sewer system backed up and flooded their property. We had filed this amicus brief, arguing that local governments should be held strictly liable and pay for damages to people who are damaged by flooding that would not have occurred but for a government project.  The Court did not agree, finding that local governments should be held to a lesser standard of liability.

Property Rights — Stack and Pack in the Bay Area

We filed this reply brief in Bay Area Citizens v. Association of Bay Area Governments and Metropolitan Transportation Commission.  This is our challenge to “Plan Bay Area” the One-Plan-to-Rule-Them-All.  The bottom line is that if the government wants to stack everyone into transit friendly urban high-rises, it needs to seriously consider all the environmental consequences, good and bad.

Property Rights — Texas Beaches

Brannan v. State of Texas.  This is an Open Beaches Act case in which the State claimed a public beach easement on developed dry sand beach areas in Surfside, Texas. After we defeated the State’s attempt to take similar beach front property in Severance v. Texas General Land Office, this case went up to appeal.  The court has now ruled that the case may proceed to trial, utilizing the theories we succeeded with in Severance.

Economic Liberties Project — Privileges and Immunities Clause

We filed this amicus brief in Courtney v. Danner, a case challenging restrictions imposed on ferry service on Lake Chelan, Washington.  What makes this case particularly interesting is that it is attempting to revive the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Constitution.  This Clause was adopted after the Civil War to ensure that no state restricted the ability of citizens to pursue a lawful profession.  However, post Civil War judicial angst over the full implications of the Clause led it to be gutted.  As our blog explains, a restoration of the Clause could have tremendous positive implications for liberty in the United States.

Government Accountability — Gifting of Public Funds to Union Coffers

We filed this amicus brief this week in Cheatham v. Gordon.  In this case the City of Phoenix agreed in a union contract to pay the wages of union employees who are working solely at the behest and under the control of the local police union.  If the union wants to charge dues to its members for its employees, that’s one thing.  But it’s quite another to give taxpayer dollars to pay the salaries of employees who are not working for the government.  As our blog points out, we’re not talking small change here, but nearly a million dollars paid out to the union in a “gift of public funds” that happens to violate the state constitution.