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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October 07, 2019

The Hill: What to watch for in the new Supreme Court session

If you care about property rights, the environment and the First Amendment, here's a quick checklist of cases to watch in the Supreme Court term starting this week.  County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund The Clean Water Act makes it clear that the states, not the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have the authority to ...

July 12, 2019

The destructive power of rent control

Bomb damage or rent control? That was the caption under this picture in a 1981 book about rent control across the world. Looking at the photo, it’s impossible to tell the difference. Almost 40 years later, the story hasn't changed: outside of wars and natural disasters, rent control is the single most effective destroyer of ...

June 28, 2019

Inclusionary zoning’s threat to affordable housing and property rights

Whether home is a house, apartment, condo, or cabin, everyone needs a place that's theirs and theirs alone. But in so many cities across the country, the price of home is too much for too many. PLF fights for people's right to freely own their home and utilize it as they choose. And when our ...

June 25, 2019

Winning the battle against Williamson County

True enemies are most often the stuff of epic tales and movies. But in real life, our enemies are subtler; many times, they're unknown to most. For decades, one of PLF's enemies has been a legal precedent called Williamson County. And during this Supreme Court session, PLF Senior Attorney Dave Breemer finally defeated it. This ...

June 14, 2019

Governments violate our property rights a lot, but the plaintiffs in these Supreme Court cases fought back

I spoke at the 2019 Foundation of Economic Education conference in Atlanta. The following is a brief overview of my presentation on the importance of our property rights and how PLF has fought for property rights over the decades. ~~~ Many countries around the world have governing documents worth less than the paper they're written ...

April 26, 2019

Weekly litigation report — April 26, 2019

Washington's Supreme Court asks whether the government should be paid for violating the constitution Earlier this week, PLF filed an amicus brief in an important property rights case pending before Washington's Supreme Court. At issue in Church of the Divine Earth v. City of Tacoma is whether the city must pay damages for having placed ...

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