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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April 12, 2019

Weekly litigation report — April 12, 2019

Agencies agree to comply with the Congressional Review Act In February, PLF secured an important victory in Tugaw Ranches, LLC v. Department of Interior, when the District Court for the District of Idaho ruled that agency violations of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) can be challenged in court. The CRA is a key law for ...

April 08, 2019

Weekly litigation report — April 5, 2019

Adverse decision in Sackett v. EPA The Idaho federal district court issued its long awaited decision in the Sacketts' twelve year-long (so far) lawsuit challenging the EPA's authority over their home site near Priest Lake, Idaho, under the Clean Water Act. The court ruled in favor of the EPA, in an opinion which we think ...

March 29, 2019

Weekly litigation report — March 29, 2019

Oklahoma can no longer play favorites in defining who's an American Indian artist This week, a federal district court in Oklahoma ruled in favor of PLF client Peggy Fontenot in her challenge to Oklahoma's restrictive definitions for American Indian artists. In Fontenot v. Hunter, we challenged an Oklahoma law that prohibited everyone but those who ...

March 25, 2019

In Memoriam, Ronald A. Zumbrun

It is with deep regret that we report that Pacific Legal Foundation's first president, Ronald A. Zumbrun, passed away on March 9, 46 years after he helped found the organization. He was 84. Ron graduated from Pomona College in 1957 and from the University of California's Boalt Hall School of Law at Berkeley in 1961. ...

March 22, 2019

Weekly litigation report — March 22, 2019

PLF asks the U.S. Supreme Court to show some love for Love Terminal Last week, PLF filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to grant review of a critically important regulatory takings case. The case, Love Terminal Partners v. United States, has a long a history, which is summarized here and detailed here. ...

March 01, 2019

Weekly litigation report — March 1, 2019

Voters challenge Texas law that censors them at the polling place Today, PLF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jillian Ostrewich and Tony Ortiz, challenging a Texas law that forces voters to silence themselves before they can vote. Last election, election workers forced Jillian to turn her "Houston Fire Fighters" shirt inside out. Tony suffered ...

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