James S. Burling

Vice President of Legal Affairs Sacramento

Before becoming an attorney, James had been a productive member of society working as an exploration geologist in the late 1970s throughout the southwestern United States. However, after several years of dealing with irrational government bureaucrats and environmental policies untethered from reality, James decided that what the world needs is more lawyers — if they are willing to fight for rationality in regulatory regimes, property rights, and liberty.

James attended the University of Arizona College of Law in Tucson, where he served as an editor for the Law Review and received a J.D. degree in 1983. He had previously received a Masters degree in geological sciences from Brown University and an undergraduate degree from Hamilton College in New York. James received the Professional Achievement Award from the University of Arizona Alumni Association in 2018.

James has worked with Pacific Legal Foundation since 1983, litigating cases from Alaska to Florida. He is a member of the Federalist Society’s Environmental Law and Property Rights Practice Group’s Executive Committee, a member of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers, and an honorary member of Owners Counsel of America, an organization comprised of eminent domain attorneys who represent property owners. The Owners Counsel awarded James its Crystal Eagle award in 2013.

In 2001, James successfully argued a major property rights case, Palazzolo v. Rhode Island, before the United States Supreme Court, a case which affirmed that rights in regulated property do not disappear when land is bought and sold. He has written extensively on all aspects of property rights and environmental law and frequently speaks on these subjects throughout the nation.

When James is not suing the government he enjoys skiing faster than he should, bicycling, hiking, swimming, and spending quality time with his wife, family, and grandchild.

Pakdel v. City and County of San Francisco

Government can’t force tenants for life

Mr. Pakdel is a small business owner in Ohio. In 2009 he bought what’s known as a “tenancy in common” (TIC) apartment in San Francisco and leased it to a residential tenant. As part of the purchase, Pakdel signed an agreement with the other owners to convert the building’s six units into condominiums. But the City of San Fra ...

Ganson v. City of Marathon, Florida

Florida decides couple’s land is for the birds

The Beyer family owns a 9-acre island off the Florida coast that was reclassified from a general zoning designation to a bird rookery that permitted no use of the property other than temporary camping. Instead of offering compensation for this taking of property, as required by the Fifth Amendment, the city offered the Beyers only transferable deve ...

P.I.E., LLC v. DeSoto County

Florida property owners deserve nothing less than just compensation

Florida’s Bert J. Harris Act requires the government to compensate property owners when a regulation “inordinately burdens” private property rights. In this case, Partners in Excavation (P.I.E.) purchased a 50-acre site for $1.25 million for the purpose of excavating fill dirt to be used in their septic contracting work. The prope ...

National Restaurant Association v. Department of Labor

The outer reaches of a statute are bookends, not blank pages

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) restricts the tipping practices of companies that  use  tips  as  a  supplement  to  reach  their  federal minimum  wage  obligations—the so-called tip credit. The FLSA forbids companies from requiring tip-earning employees—such as waiters—to share tip money with untipped staff—such as line coo ...

WildEarth Guardians v. Department of Justice

Unintentional, accidental “take” of species should not be a crime

A radical environmental group challenged the government’s interpretation of the Endangered Species Act. Because the ESA’s criminal penalties apply only you “knowingly” take a protected species, the government reasonably interprets this to mean that you must know that your actions will cause take and the identity of the speci ...

Universal Welding, Inc. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Regulatory creep: asserting jurisdiction over the land next door

The Clean Water Act gives the Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction over wetlands, including wetlands that are adjacent to other jurisdictional waters such as navigable rivers or lakes. The law does not give the Corps jurisdiction over wetlands that are adjacent to other wetlands. Universal Welding is a family-owned steel and pipe fabrication busine ...

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April 28, 2021

For decades, the government discriminated against Asian immigrants’ right to earn a living and hold property

When the Statue of Liberty was erected in 1875, it stood as a beacon for freedom and openness, welcoming immigrants from around the world. Millions came seeking a country where they could flourish and pursue their own happiness. But that promise rang hollow to many Asian immigrants who had to endure a host of state ...

April 01, 2021

Justice Gorsuch understands the nation will survive a landowner victory in Cedar Point

When the Supreme Court took up our Cedar Point v. Hassid case, it was to address a straightforward issue: Whether a California law that forced farmers to accept trespassers onto their property for three hours a day and 120 days a year had taken the owners' property. This is an important issue, because without the ...

March 31, 2021

How a legal precedent stacks the deck against property owners

Property rights are at the core of our country's founding. Yet, as sacred as these rights are to the safeguarding of our Constitution, the government has repeatedly disregarded Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections at the expense of individuals and their private property. This is why defending property rights is such an important battleground issu ...

March 23, 2021

Orange County Register: The Supreme Court must protect the property rights of California farmers

If you own private property, can you keep other people away if you don't want them there? The answer is, "yes, of course." With the exception of the police, health and safety inspectors, and other government-sanctioned visits – all pursuant to strict limitations baked into the law – landowners have every right to keep uninvited ...

February 23, 2021

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution: A Primer

The Fourth Amendment is among the most sacred safeguards of individual liberty embedded in our Constitution. The amendment reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by O ...

December 17, 2020

Real Estate Issues: America’s Sordid History of Exclusionary Zoning

In the summer of 1910, a successful Yale-educated attorney named George W.F. McMechen and his schoolteacher wife moved to an upscale neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland. After all, McMechen had achieved the American dream; he and his wife were well-respected, affluent professionals, and they wanted their home to reflect their success. But there was ...

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