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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August 02, 2021

The Hill: Pulling back the curtain on DC’s rulemakers?

For all matters of government policy, there's usually someone to praise or blame. When it comes to agency rulemaking, however, it is not often so clear who's responsible. A new bipartisan bill in front of Congress could fix that. With federal regulation, all executive action should, in theory, be consistent with law and reflect the ...

July 29, 2021

Still no place to live: The local barriers to the accessory dwelling unit revolution

ADUs are small homes located on the same lot as an existing single- or multi-family home, such as a garage apartment, a basement unit, or a backyard cottage. While ADUs can't solve the country's housing crisis, they are an important piece of a property rights and free market-based solution.   ...

July 29, 2021

Texas Bureaucrats Cannot Reclassify Private Properties as Public Beach

Private property rights are one of America's core founding principles. As John Adams astutely noted, "Property must be secured, or liberty cannot exist." But even in states that pride themselves for upholding such principles, private property rights are often challenged by bureaucrats. The Texas General Land Office (GLO) recently has threatened the ...

July 27, 2021

As pandemic subsides, why are governors still exercising “emergency powers”?

As the COVID-19 pandemic gradually recedes from the highs we saw in 2020, we should carefully reflect on what the past 15 months of a public health emergency have taught us. As a longtime advocate for individual liberty and limited government, here's the principal lesson I take from our pandemic experience: The separation of governmental ...

July 26, 2021

The Hill: COVID-19 eviction bans expose deeper hostility toward property ownership

What would you think if the government dictated that you won't be paid for more than a year but you must keep working? As unlikely as you might consider such a scenario, this hypothetical is Howard Iten's reality. Iten, a commercial landlord in Los Angeles, is under Los Angeles County's pandemic-driven mandate to continue running ...

July 21, 2021

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s gun violence emergency order shows why unchecked executive powers are so dangerous

During the COVID-19 pandemic, governors across the country claimed extraordinary emergency power. For weeks and then for months and then for over a year, they used this purported authority to unilaterally shut down businesses, enact health and safety measures, and issue sweeping emergency orders. Such broad emergency power may have made sense in th ...

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