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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September 17, 2021

The crisis exception to the Constitution?

When a great crisis visits the nation, the niceties of constitutionally protected rights must take a holiday. Only later, once the crisis has resolved, can we go about deciding which rights should be fully restored, and which rights should be modified to meet the new circumstances of a post-crisis world. Rights, after all, must give ...

September 14, 2021

The Hill: Is this the beginning of the end of draconian rent control in New York City?

A century ago, the Supreme Court upheld the nation's first rent control law in Washington, D.C.. A year later, it did the same for New York's "Emergency Housing Law." Soon, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the most significant challenge in decades to New York's latest version of its rent law. The first ...

July 15, 2021

PLF Victories Give Rise to New PLF Victories

In 1922, the Supreme Court relied on the doctrine of regulatory takings to rule that an excessive coal mining regulation violated the constitutional rights of the coal owner. This was a big win for property rights and should have had long-lasting implications. But, unfortunately, the idea that a regulatory taking violated the Constitution went into ...

July 08, 2021

The solution to high home prices: Build, baby, build.

The more something is regulated, the less there is of it. The more government edicts are directed at stopping something, the more desirable that thing becomes. And the more we restrict the supply of something that people desperately need and want, the more it costs. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the median price ...

June 08, 2021

Are mandatory vaccinations and vaccine passports constitutional?

As COVID vaccines continue to become more widely available, the conversation has turned to whether the government should mandate vaccinations. Some policy proposals have called for vaccine passports to ensure that the unvaccinated do not harm others, while other proposals ban businesses from inquiring about vaccination status. Are mandatory vaccina ...

May 20, 2021

Moving from equality to equity is unconstitutional and hurts minorities

In a recent Washington Post op-ed column, former neurosurgeon, presidential candidate, and cabinet official Ben Carson makes a sound case against the recent shift toward "equity" as a goal of policy. Carson suggests the enhanced focus on equity, rather than on the more-inclusive "equality," is resurrecting toxic behaviors our society has worked har ...

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