James S. Burling

Vice President for Litigation 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 new 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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February 22, 2019

Weekly litigation report — February 23, 2019

Never assume government competence Following on the Supreme Court's decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which freed public employees from having to subsidize unions without their affirmative consent, the Court asked the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to consider how the Janus ruling affects attorneys forced to contribute to mandatory government-run bar a ...

February 08, 2019

Weekly litigation report — February 9, 2019

Should you need government permission to sell harmless, FDA-approved hearing aids? We filed this opening brief on appeal asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to reinstate PLF client Dan Taylor's constitutional challenge against Florida's outdated hearing aid sales regulations. The law prohibits anyone from selling a hearing aid ...

February 04, 2019

Weekly litigation report — January 26, 2019

Wolf listing upheld This week the San Diego County Superior Court ruled that the California Fish and Game Commission acted legally when it listed a single transient wolf as endangered under California's Endangered Species Act. Our clients, the California Cattlemen's Association and California Farm Bureau Federation, challenged the state listing bec ...

January 26, 2019

Weekly litigation report — January 26, 2019

PLF files reply brief to halt discriminatory admissions program in New York Schools Today Pacific Legal Foundation filed this reply  in support of the preliminary injunction motion in Christa McAuliffe PTO v. De Blasio, in which PLF asks the Court to stop De Blasio's discriminatory changes to the admissions process for New York Schools. For ...

January 19, 2019

Weekly litigation report — January 19, 2019

Oral argument held again in Knick at the Supreme Court On January 16, the Supreme Court heard reargument in Knick v. Scott Township, the case where Rose Knick sued her town after it declared the public could trespass on her property in order to search for some old stones, claimed to be colonial-era graves. Knick ...

January 12, 2019

Weekly litigation update — January 12, 2019

Washington Supreme Court spurns Seattle's tax gamble Washington State is one of a handful of states that characterizes individual income as private property, subject to the same protections as all other property. Thus, on seven occasions over the past eighty years, Washington's high court has declared targeted income taxes unlawful under a state co ...