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.

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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.

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Property Rights

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 legitimate reason for the government to take his land – government may only take land (with compensation) for a “public use.” The trial court agreed with Birnbaum. The state appealed and PLF filed an amicus brief arguing that government speculation about “economic development” is not a public use that justifies taking a private home and transferring it to a different private owner.

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Property Rights

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 fill placed in navigable waters prior to December 4, 1969. An environmental group, Chelan Bay Conservancy, sued the owner of Three Fingers to remove the fill on the basis that it allegedly violates the public trust doctrine. The Washington Supreme Court issued a decision largely adopting the legal principles espoused in PLF’s amicus brief in favor of the property owner and remanded the public trust question for trial.

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Personal Liberties

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 right to his land and encumbered it with a new easement for a public recreational trail under the perpetual jurisdiction of a federal agency. Brott sued for compensation in the district court in Michigan and requested a jury to determine the amount. The court refused to hear his case and sent him to the Court of Federal Claims, an executive-branch court that does not allow jury trials. PLF supports Brott as amicus curiae.

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By John M. Groen

The power of standing strong for liberty

Defending the rights and liberties of regular Americans — that’s been Pacific Legal Foundation’s stock and trade for more than 40 years   The challenge facing PLF clients, Teresa Avila-Burns and her husband Ray Burns, is typical of the cases we take and victories we win for their constitutional rights, and those of their fellow Americans

Today, on #GivingTuesday, their victory over the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), exemplifies the unique partnership we have with our donors, most of whom are just regular, freedom-loving Americans

Ray and Teresa sought a permit to build a modest home at Lake Tahoe in an established subdivision with streets, and sewer, water and electrical service 

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By John M. Groen

PLF files its Supreme Court reply brief in Murr v. Wisconsin

The Supreme Court of the United States today received PLF’s Reply Brief on the Merits in Murr v Wisconsin, filed on behalf of the Murr family The case is now fully briefed, and ready for scheduling oral argument It is expected that the Court will soon set an oral argument date, most likely in November

This case presents a long-standing and difficult question that is critical to the protection afforded property owners by the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment The case is expected to produce national precedent for how to identify the “relevant parcel” to be considered in a regulatory takings case

Here, the Murr family owns two adjacent

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By John M. Groen

A momentous week

This week, Pacific Legal Foundation made history outside the courtroom with the naming of Steven Anderson — our next President and CEO  Steven is well versed in constitutional law and he’s an ardent defender of property rights from a stellar career at the Institute for Justice where he is currently Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

He officially assumes his new post at PLF on September 1, but he takes the helm at PLF at a momentous time in our 43-year history  Already this year, PLF has notched our eighth and ninth victories before the Supreme Court of the United States, US Army Corps of

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By John M. Groen

President's weekly report — June 3, 2016

Supreme Court Victory!

The Supreme Court gave Pacific Legal Foundation a resounding victory on Monday in United States Army Corps of Engineers v Hawkes The unanimous Court held that a Corps of Engineers’ Jurisdictional Determination (ie wetlands delineation) is immediately reviewable in court and subject to challenge For the first time since the inception of the Clean Water Act (1972), overzealous government bureaucrats can be held immediately accountable in court for their erroneous assertions of federal control over private wetlands and other waters This levels the playing field for landowners who have been at the mercy of overreaching government for far too long Reed Hopper explains more here

Individual

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By John M. Groen

Amici line up in support of the Murr family

Yesterday, eleven separate briefs representing over 30 entities were filed in the Supreme Court of the United States in support of the Murrs in this high profile regulatory taking case Of particular note, the State of Nevada was joined by eight other states, pointing out that “Amici States’ interest is at its apex here” and that the rule adopted by the Wisconsin court “imperils the property rights of citizens”

The Murrs allege an uncompensated taking by government restrictions that block all use of their vacant residential parcel But the Wisconsin court ruled that because the Murr family happens to own the adjoining parcel, and enjoy a recreational cabin there,

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By John M. Groen

PLF files opening brief at Supreme Court in Murr v. Wisconsin

Pacific Legal Foundation today filed its Petitioners’ Brief on the Merits in this case pending before the Supreme Court of the United States The Court granted review on January 15th, 2016, and oral argument will be held in early October A specific oral argument date has not yet been set  A copy of the Petition is here, and the Merits Brief is here

Since 1978, regulatory takings of private property have been evaluated based on the magnitude of government interference with the “parcel as a whole” But the perplexing problem has been how to define the scope of that parcel Just what is the whole parcel?  In this

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