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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January 21, 2021

The Hill: Was 2020 a turning point for identity politics?

The tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last summer has led to renewed interest in an important topic: equality before the law. Although Americans are united in their pursuit of this important principle, they are divided on what the term means. This divide is not along right-left lines. Instead, it is between collectivists who ...

January 20, 2021

Houston-area contractors brace for additional racial set-asides

Last year in Texas, both Harris County and the Port of Houston completed their first-ever studies of how public contracts are awarded for everything from paper products to multi-million-dollar building projects. The studies, called disparity studies, found that minority-owned businesses in Harris County and Port of Houston win public contracts at l ...

January 20, 2021

Daily Journal: California’s attack on donor privacy draws supreme scrutiny

Do you have the right to privately support charities and causes you believe in? And what standard applies when the government seeks to discover otherwise-anonymous donors' identities from nonprofit organizations? On Jan. 8, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra to clarify the answers to those qu ...

January 20, 2021

Despite ”Cancel Culture” growing, America’s freedom of speech is strong

**Editor’s note on upcoming PLF event** Freedom of speech is a core value in American society. It's no mistake that it is protected by the First Amendment to our constitution. Both our intellectual and economic lives depend on the exchange of ideas and information. Yet today, individuals on both sides of the aisle are calling for ...

January 14, 2021

Orlando Sentinel: Orange County voters were misguided in approving ‘Rights of nature’ ordinance

Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law an amendment to Florida's Environmental Protection Act, SB 712, that in part prohibits local governments from granting individuals the right to sue on behalf of plants, animals, bodies or water or other elements of nature. It reflected the sensible idea that it is individuals who are harmed ...

January 14, 2021

Not only does Chicago’s racial contracting set asides hurt minorities, it’s unconstitutional

In 2020, COVID-19 devastated many small businesses, including construction companies that work on public projects such as public roads, public schools, or public hospitals. In 2021, Chicago can make it easier for those contractors to earn a living by eliminating its set-asides for minority-owned businesses. Chicago's Minority Business Enterprise (M ...

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