John M. Groen

Executive Vice President and General Counsel Washington

John Groen has extensive experience in public interest litigation before all levels of federal and state courts.  He began his law career with Pacific Legal Foundation in 1987 and launched the PLF Bellevue office in 1992.  After nine years on staff, he shifted to private practice and formed Groen, Stephens & Klinge LLP in Bellevue, Washington, where he litigated land use issues and takings claims arising from government regulation of private property.  Many of his cases are now leading appellate decisions that have shaped significant aspects of land use law in Washington.

In 2006, John campaigned statewide challenging the incumbent Chief Justice for election to the Washington Supreme Court.  Although he lost a very close election, the experience was invaluable.  In particular, John appreciated the many volunteers and new friends he made during the campaign.

After 19 years in private practice, and two years as a Trustee on the PLF Board of Trustees, John realized it was time to return to his passion for public interest law in support of private property rights.  In 2015, he resigned from his law practice and began his second tour as a PLF litigator.  Two years later, on behalf of the Murr family, he argued Murr v. Wisconsin before the United States Supreme Court.

John lives in Leavenworth, Washington, which is a small “Bavarian themed” tourist town on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains.  He enjoys the tourists, but refuses to wear lederhosen.  John admits he is a bit of a golf addict.  Despite a marginal handicap that never improves, he says there is nothing quite like a walk on a beautiful course, whether solitary or with friends.

John is a 1981 graduate of Claremont McKenna College and received his law degree from McGeorge School of Law.  As he looks to the future, John is particularly excited about seeing young PLF attorneys embracing the cause for liberty.  He says their dedication and exceptional talent will ensure that PLF’s mission to defend constitutional rights and liberty will thrive.

Casino Reinvestment Development Authority v. Birnbaum

Atlantic City should lose its gamble to take private property rights

Charlie Birnbaum’s family lives in Atlantic City. A casino coveted their land so the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) decided to take the Birnbaums’ home and give it to the casino, ostensibly to benefit the state’s economy. Birnbaum sued because giving his property to a privately-owned casino is not a le ...

Chelan Basin Conservancy v. GBI Holding Company

The public trust doctrine is not an all-encompassing conservation easement

Along the shore of Washington’s Lake Chelan, a large fill known as “Three Fingers” has been in place since 1961. The placement of this fill was retroactively authorized by the state’s Shoreline Management Act, which grants consent and authorizes impairment of public rights of navigation, fishing, and recreation caused by fil ...

Brott v. United States

Jury trial sought in rails-to-trails regulatory takings case

Kevin Brott owns land in Muskegon, Michigan. In 1886, a railroad obtained a right-of-way easement across his land. When the railroad ceased operation, the easement terminated and full ownership of the land returned to the owner. The federal government, however, invoking the National Trails System Act and related regulations, nullified Brott’s ...

Murr v. Wisconsin

Wisconsin undermines property rights by “merging” separate lots

The Murr family owned two separately deeded lots that were purchased independently by their parents in the 1960s. They built a small cabin on one lot and held the other one as an investment for the future. But when the time came to sell, subsequently enacted regulations forbade the Murrs from making any productive use of the vacant lot – and with ...

Lynch v. California Coastal Commission

California erodes landowners’ right to protect their property and their ability to challenge government action

The Lynch family sought permission from the California Coastal Commission to repair a storm-damaged seawall and stairway that led from their home at the top of a bluff down to the beach. The Commission permitted the seawall restoration with a condition that they seek an additional permit in the future, and denied the permit for the stairway. To pro ...

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April 15, 2021

The Wall Street Journal: Schools offer empty words to Asians

The horrific murders in Atlanta last week inspired an outpouring of support for Asian-Americans. "An attack on any group of us is an attack on all of us—and on everything we represent as an institution," Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said in a statement. "To Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders in our community: We stand ...

April 14, 2021

Can the government force you to get a vaccine?

The COVID-19 vaccine is one of the greatest advancements of medical science ever. But while the vaccine represents a welcome key to finally overcoming COVID-19, it has also renewed the questions surrounding government's involvement in our health. Confusion and debate around vaccine eligibility or "vaccine passports" all lead to one central question ...

April 12, 2021

Orange County Register: Much ADU about nothing

There are only three bad things about Accessory Dwelling Units. The first two are (1) the name, and (2) the acronym. Why does every good normal thing have to be given an anodyne cover name when it gets discussed in public policy? ADU is a code name for in-law apartments, granny flats, over-the-garage apartments, and ...

April 09, 2021

There are better ways to house people than by banning evictions

A common government response to the pandemic has been to freeze evictions to keep people housed. While these moratoria may be attractive on the surface, this shortsighted tactic will only constrict access to affordable housing. There are better paths forward. Pacific Legal Foundation has challenged several of these eviction moratoria in court (see ...

April 08, 2021

Arizona Capitol Times: It’s past time to rein in governor’s emergency powers

In late January 2020, Arizona logged its first recorded Covid infection. Just over six weeks later, the pandemic had spread so widely that Gov. Doug Ducey declared a statewide emergency. As we've passed the anniversary of that emergency declaration, it's worth reflecting on what we've learned from the extraordinary events of the last year. One ...

April 08, 2021

Can the police enter your house and take your stuff without a warrant?

Can the police enter your home and confiscate your weapons without a warrant? That's the question the Supreme Court is getting ready to decide in Caniglia v. Strom. But the answer won't be found in the Second Amendment. Instead, the Court will consider whether the police violated a Rhode Island man's Fourth Amendment right against ...

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