Issues and Cases

Issues & Cases

Thanks to our donors, PLF remains in the lead as America’s legal watchdog for liberty. We’re an action organization, battling in courtrooms across the country for limited government, property rights, free enterprise, and common sense in environmental regulations.  Choose from the Litigation categories below for a list of some major cases PLF has brought in each practice area.

Other PLF cases can be found through a case database search HERE.

Economic Liberty

Vogt v. Ferrel: Razing government roadblocks to competition in the moving business

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Economic Liberty

PLF believes it is the right of every person to earn an honest living and compete freely without unreasonable government interference. The Economic Liberty Project is dedicated to challenging irrational and anti-competitive occupational licensing laws which exist not to protect the public, but serve only to protect discrete interest groups from competition.

Other PLF economic liberty cases can be found through a case database search HERE.

  • Arty Vogt and Vogt Ventures LLC v. Ferrel, et al.West Virginia law essentially requires entrepreneurs in the moving industry to ask their competitors for permission before starting a business. PLF is challenging this roadblock to new competition — called a “Certificate of Necessity” law — on behalf of Arty Vogt, owner of Lloyd’s Transfer & Storage, in Berryville, Virginia. Vogt’s business was blocked from expanding 10 miles across the border into West Virginia by the unconstitutional law. The lawsuit argues that the restriction is unconstitutional because it has nothing to do with public safety, and instead law exists solely to protect established companies from legitimate competition. The Vogt case is part of PLF’s nationwide campaign against Competitor’s Veto laws.
  • Cefali v. City of San Juan Capistrano - When Michael Cefali parked his Volkswagen in front of his home and placed a “For Sale” sign on it, he attracted the attention of regulators---who cited him for violating the City’s ban on for sale signs on cars. Cefali is challenging the law as a violation of his right to free speech. This case follows on the heels of PLF’s successful challenge to a similar unconstitutional law in Alexandria, VA.
  • Comment Letter re: Proposed Alabama Craft Brewery Rule - PLF filed a comment letter arguing that Alabama’s proposed rule, which would make craft breweries obtain your personal information and hand it over to the government before selling you a beer, is bad policy. PLF recounts the anti-competitive history of the industry to show why this law doesn’t protect public health, but instead stifles entrepreneurial craft brewers.
  • Comment Letter re: Napa Valley Wine Labeling - The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has proposed tightening its restrictions on what types of winemakers can call their wine “Napa Valley wine.” PLF filed a comment letter outlining the serious First Amendment concerns with the proposed rule. The rule would prohibit winemakers from truthfully describing their products. For example, a New York winemaker who uses Napa grapes but bottles his wine in New York would be prohibited from using a label that says, “Napa Valley wine, finished in New York.”
 

Education Reform

White v. VICC: Challenging race-based student transfer restrictions in the St. Louis area

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Education Reform

Other PLF education reform cases can be found through a case database search HERE.

  • White v. Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation - As part of a desegregation lawsuit settlement decades ago, the St. Louis Student Transfer Program was established, imposing race-based restrictions on transfers between school districts in the County and schools in the City of St. Louis (and vice versa). La’Shieka White has moved to St. Louis County from the city, and would like her son to continue attending his current charter school in the city. However, the transfer program blocks him from doing so, simply because he is black (he would be allowed to transfer from the county to his charter school in the city if he were of any other race). PLF’s lawsuit challenges this race-based restriction as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
  • California Charter Schools Assocation v. Los Angeles Unified School District - The California Charter Schools Association is challenging the Los Angeles Unified School District’s non-compliance with Proposition 39. PLF filed a brief in the California Supreme Court explaining that Proposition 39 guarantees charter school students are treated fairly by requiring school districts to provide them with facilities that are “reasonably equivalent” to those enjoyed by traditional public school students. 
  • League of Women Voters v. Washington - Anti-school choice advocates are challenging the legality of Washington’s voter-approved Charter School Act.  PLF filed a brief in the Washington Supreme Court arguing that the charter school law does not offend that state’s constitution.
  • Magee v. Boyd - PLF helped defend Alabama’s statewide school choice program in the Alabama Supreme Court.  The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the Alabama Accountability Act does not unconstitutionally interfere with state funding of religious schools, because parents make the choice about which school their child will attend.
  • McCall v. Scott - The Florida teachers’ union is challenging the statewide tax credit program that provides low-income families with choices about where their child is educated.  PLF is defending parents right to select the school that best fits their child’s needs.
  • Richardson v. North Carolina - PLF is helping defend North Carolina parents’ right to choose the school that best fits their child’s needs. The North Carolina teachers’ union brought suit challenging that state’s statewide school choice program. The case is currently before the North Carolina Supreme Court.
  • Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District - Douglas County, Colorado adopted a school choice program that allows all students that live within the district a choice in the school that they will attend.  A collation of anti-school choice groups brought suit arguing that the school board’s policy violates the Colorado Constitution. PLF filed a brief in support of school choice families in the Colorado Supreme Court.

 

VICTORY!


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co.: PLF wins precedent-setting victory for property owners’ rights in the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Environmental Regulations

PLF fights for a commonsense, science-based, balanced approach to environmental regulation. PLF challenges government hubris in the enforcement of state environmental regulations and federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and Clean Air Act to protect private property rights and reduce the ever-expanding power of government.

Other PLF environmental regulations cases can be found through a case database search HERE.

 

Equality Under the Law

White v. VICC: Challenging race-based student transfer restrictions in the St. Louis area

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Equality Under the Law

PLF challenges programs covering public contracting, public education, and public employment that grant special preferences to a select few on the basis of race and sex. PLF litigates to assure a color-blind society and against attempts that undermine the Constitution’s Equal Protection guarantee and state constitutional provisions like California’s Proposition 209.

Other PLF equality under the law cases can be found through a case database search HERE.

  • White v. Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation - As part of a desegregation lawsuit settlement decades ago, the St. Louis Student Transfer Program was established, imposing race-based restrictions on transfers between school districts in the County and schools in the City of St. Louis (and vice versa). La’Shieka White has moved to St. Louis County from the city, and would like her son to continue attending his current charter school in the city. However, the transfer program blocks him from doing so, simply because he is black (he would be allowed to transfer from the county to his charter school in the city if he were of any other race). PLF’s lawsuit challenges this race-based restriction as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
  • Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas - For over five years, PLF attorneys have supported Abigail Fisher in her challenge to the University of Texas’s race-conscious admissions and will continue to support her until her equal protection rights are vindicated.
  • Hardie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association – A high school basketball coach is challenging an NCAA rule prohibiting convicted felons from coaching in NCAA-sponsored tournaments. Plaintiff alleges that the rule is discriminatory simply because of its effect, and despite the lack of a discriminatory intent. In late August, PLF will be filing a brief in the Ninth Circuit supporting the NCAA. Oral argument has not yet been scheduled.
  • Mountain West Holding Company v. MontanaA contractor is challenging Montana’s enforcement of the Federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program. Under Montana’s discriminatory program, prime contractors must favor or disfavor subcontractors on the basis of their race. PLF filed a brief  in the Ninth Circuit in support of race-neutral contracting policies. Oral argument has not yet been scheduled.
  • Connerly v. State of California - Ward Connerly and the American Civil Rights Foundation are challenging the California Redistricting Commission’s race-conscious selection criteria. PLF attorneys are asking the court to hold that the statutes that require redistricting commissioners to be selected on the basis of race violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
  • Shea v. Kerry – Representing Foreign Service Officer William Shea in a challenge to the Department of State’s race-based hiring policy, PLF attorneys are asking the Court to hold that any race-based employment decision is illegal and can only be upheld in extraordinary circumstances.
  • Midwest Fence Corp. v. United States Department of Transportation  – Challenge to discriminatory public contracting programs in Illinois that require prime contractors to award subcontracts on the basis of race. PLF filed a brief in the Seventh Circuit supporting one subcontracting firm, whose low bids were rejected because of the owner’s race.

 

Free Enterprise

Vogt v. Ferrel: Razing government roadblocks to competition in the moving business

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Free Enterprise

All Americans have the constitutional right to earn a living without unfair government interference. PLF attorneys target licensing laws and other regulations that deprive entrepreneurs from competing fairly and pursuing the American dream. PLF confronts outrageous tort liability claims and other litigious practices that threaten to kill jobs, stifle innovation, and suffocate the U.S. economy.

Other PLF free enterprise cases can be found through a case database search HERE.

  • Arty Vogt and Vogt Ventures LLC v. Ferrel, et al.West Virginia forces entrepreneurs to prove a “need” for additional moving services before they are allowed to operate. PLF is challenging this roadblock to new competition — called a “Certificate of Necessity” law — on behalf of Arty Vogt, owner of Lloyd’s Transfer & Storage, in Berryville, Virginia. Vogt’s business was blocked from expanding 10 miles across the border into West Virginia by the unconstitutional law. The lawsuit argues that the restriction is unconstitutional because it burdens interstate commerce in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause and because it is not rationally related to a legitimate government interest, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. West Virginia’s Certificate of Need law exists solely to protect established companies from legitimate competition.
  • In the Matter of New York City Asbestos Litigation - A manufacturer of a non-asbestos containing product should not be liable for a plaintiff’s asbestos-related disease.
  • Genie v. Matak - Arguing that a plaintiff cannot introduce a product that would violate safety standards as evidence of a “safer alternative design."
  • Sanchez v. Valencia Holding Co., LLC - Urging California Supreme Court to uphold the freedom to enter into consumer contracts that provide for individual arbitration of disputes.

 

Individual Rights


Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: On June 28, 2016, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court decision favoring the unions on a 4-4 tie.

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Individual Rights

PLF promotes individual freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government. Specifically, PLF protects the right to free speech and association, fights unconstitutional taxes, fees, and debt, and combats the government waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption that pose a threat to liberty.

Other PLF individual rights cases can be found through a case database search HERE.

  • Friedrichs v. CTA - Several California public school teachers argue that, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, they cannot be compelled to pay union dues.

 

Property Rights


Murr v. State of Wisconsin and St. Croix County: A taking occurs where a forced merger of two lots cancels out the separate development opportunities for one of them.

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Property Rights

The right to own, use and protect private property is the most fundamental of all civil rights Americans enjoy. PLF has earned a national reputation for fighting and winning major property rights victories, including several at the U.S. Supreme Court. PLF challenges regulatory shakedowns, illegal zoning practices, eminent domain, and coastal land rights abuses.

Other PLF property rights cases can be found through a case database search HERE.

 


Landmark Supreme Court Victories

Supreme Court

Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is one of the most active and effective public interest legal organizations in filings before the Supreme Court of the United States. PLF has had an unprecedented eight wins in its last eight direct appearances before the High Court for its clients, including three in the last two years.

Other PLF U.S. Supreme Court cases can be found through a case database search HERE.

The following cases illustrate PLF’s caseload, both direct and amicus cases before the High Court:

Hawkes Co., et al. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Issue: Through a “Jurisdictional Determination,” the Army Corps of Engineers designated property owned by The Hawkes Co., Inc., Pierce Investment Company, and LPF Properties, in Minnesota, as “wetlands” over which the Corps has regulatory authority. On appeal, the threshold issue is whether property owners have the legal right to bring a court challenge to such a regulatory finding.

Murr v. State of Wisconsin and St. Croix County
Issue: In a regulatory taking case, does the “parcel as a whole” concept described in Penn Central Trans. Co. v. City of New York (1978) establish a rule that two legally distinct, but commonly owned, contiguous parcels must be combined for takings analysis purposes? Petitioners are four siblings who own two adjacent waterfront parcels in St. Croix, Wisconsin. Their parents bought Lot F in 1960 and built a recreational cabin on it; they bought Lot E in 1963 as an investment for separate development, which would have been allowed at that time. Under ordinances passed in the 1970s, however, Lot E can now neither be developed nor sold separately. Accordingly, petitioners argue that the government owes them compensation under Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council (1992). When determining whether there has been a taking of property, the Supreme Court has held that courts must consider the “parcel as a whole.” The “relevant parcel” question asks: What is the whole parcel? Petitioners contend that Lot E is the whole parcel at issue, since it was acquired separately, at a later time, and for a different purpose than Lot F. They also assert that governments cannot effectively extinguish a property right without compensation just because the regulated party owns adjacent lots of real property.

Kent Recycling Services, LLC v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Issue: For almost two decades the Army Corps of Engineers has exempted from Clean Water Act jurisdiction all wetlands that had been converted to agricultural use prior to 1985, no matter how the “prior converted croplands” are used today. Under this rule, “prior converted croplands” can lose their exemption only if they are abandoned for a number of years and the land regains its wetland characteristics. But now, pursuant to a “policy pronouncement,” the Corps has adopted a new standard that withdraws the prior converted croplands exemption upon a change in use. This could have a drastic effect on land use, as our client Kent Recycling has discovered firsthand.

California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose
Issue: A San Jose, CA ordinance withholds housing development permits unless the developer agrees to either sell 15% of the new homes for less than market value to city-designated buyers or pay the city a fee. In two previous cases won by PLF, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission (1987) and Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District (2013), the Supreme Court held that governments may only demand exactions from a permit applicant that is necessary to mitigate a problem caused by the applicant. Petitioner California Building Industry Association (CBIA) argues that San Jose’s conditions are unconstitutional exactions because new housing does not increase the need for “affordable” housing. CBIA further asserts that such a permit condition is subject to scrutiny even though legislatively imposed and is invalid under the unconstitutional conditions doctrine as set out in Koontz, Dolan v. City of Tigard (1994) and Nollan.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin
Issue: As Court-watchers are aware, the University of Texas at Austin uses racial preferences in its undergraduate admissions decisions, despite not doing so for many previous years and achieving substantial minority enrollment under Texas’s Top Ten Percent Law. Petitioner Abigail Fisher argues that UT’s renewed and enhanced use of race to achieve greater and more fine-tuned levels of classroom “diversity” violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. When the Court considered her case in 2013 (Fisher I), it held that the Fifth Circuit erred by not properly applying strict scrutiny in upholding the university policy. On remand, the Fifth Circuit upheld the policy again. The issue presented in this round is whether the Fifth Circuit’s re-endorsement of the UT’s racial preference plan can be sustained under the Court’s decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause, including Fisher I. PLF’s amicus briefs at the cert. stage and on the merits argue that there is no compelling interest in the use of racially discriminatory admission policies.

Shea v. Kerry
Issue: Under the State Department’s Mid-Level Affirmative Action Plan (MLAAP), the Department hired entry-level, self-identified minorities directly into a mid-level position. William Shea, a white male Department employee, brought an employment discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, arguing that he was subjected to unequal treatment under the MLAAP because of his race. The district court ruled that Shea bears the burden to show that the race-based program was illegal, and he has failed to carry that burden of proof. The court noted that had Mr. Shea brought his claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the government’s burden would have been higher, and he would have prevailed. Representing Mr. Shea on appeal, attorneys for PLF contend that when government institutes a race-based hiring plan, it must bear the burden of showing why the program is necessary, regardless of whether the challenge to the plan is brought under the Constitution or Title VII.

Arrigoni Enterprises, LLC v. Durham Planning and Zoning Commission, and Durham Zoning Board of Appeals, CT
Issue: The Arrigoni family owns a 9-acre parcel of land in Durham, Connecticut, that it has been trying to develop for the past decade. Although the land is zoned for light industrial use, the Town refused to allow building on the property because it would require rock excavation and crushing, which the zoning does not allow. However, the Town did approve development on neighboring parcels, even though excavation and crushing were required. The Town denied the family’s requests to change the zoning to allow for excavation, to obtain a variance from the excavation restriction and to process a special permit for the excavation. PLF attorneys took over representation of the case in the Second Circuit Court of Appeal where they seek to vindicate the Arrigoni’s constitutional right to use and develop their property.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association 
Issue: California law requires all public school teachers to pay dues to the labor union that represents them, regardless of whether they are union members. Unless they expressly opt-out during a limited time-period, California teachers are charged an additional amount that’s used to support political and ideological activities. In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), the Court upheld the constitutionality of requiring public-sector non-union members to pay a monthly “agency fee” purportedly used for bargaining issues. The two questions presented in this case are: (1) Whether Abood should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements invalidated under the First Amendment; and (2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require that public employees affirmatively object to subsidizing nonchargeable speech by public-sector unions, rather than requiring that employees affirmatively consent to subsidizing such speech. In its cert.- and merits-stage amicus briefs supporting Petitioner Friedrichs and other California teachers, PLF argues that Abood was based on an unrealistic view of public-employee unionism, which has resulted in the infringement of individual rights under the First Amendment.

MHN Government Services, Inc. v. Zaborowski
Issue: Pursuant to an arbitration agreement, the parties in this case agreed to arbitrate their disputes. They further agreed that if any specific terms of the agreement were invalid, a court should simply sever the offending terms and still honor the parties’ agreement. California courts apply an anti-severance rule to arbitration agreements, but not ordinary contracts. Applying this rule, the Ninth Circuit declined to sever separate provision in the agreement it determined were unconscionable and invalidated the entire arbitration agreement. The question presented in this case is whether California’s arbitration-only severability rule is preempted by the Federal Arbitration act (FAA), which states that agreements to arbitrate “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” PLF’s amicus brief argues that California’s rule disproportionately—and adversely—affects arbitration contracts, in violation of the FAA, which protects the freedom of contract.

Center for Competitive Politics v. Harris 
Issue: Under California law, nonprofits that receive donations from California residents are required to submit a copy of their IRS Form 990 to the state’s Attorney General. Historically, the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) has provided the public version of the form that redacts the names and addresses of its donors. Last year, however, the Attorney General demanded that CCP turn over the names and addresses of every donor who contributed more than $5,000. CCP argues that this demand violates the First Amendment’s protection of private association and speech. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the disclosure requirement imposes no First Amendment injury and upheld it under purported “exacting scrutiny.” The questions presented in CCP’s cert petition are: (1) Whether a state official’s demand for all significant donors to a nonprofit organization, as a precondition to engaging in constitutionally-protected speech, constitutes a First Amendment injury; and (2) whether the “exacting scrutiny” standard applied in compelled disclosure cases permits state officials to demand donor information based upon generalized “law enforcement” interests, without making any specific showing of need. PLF’s amicus brief argues that requiring organizations to prove that disclosure will lead to retaliation will chill speech in violation of the First Amendment.

DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia 
Issue: When Amy Imburgia sued DirecTV to dispute early termination fees, her service contract explicitly said that any disputes would be resolved in individual arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) unless “the law of your state would find this agreement to dispense with class arbitration procedures unenforceable.” In 2005, the California Supreme Court announced a rule that consumer class-action waivers in consumer arbitration agreements were unenforceable. However, in 2011the Supreme Court held that this rule was preempted by the FAA. Nevertheless, the California Court of Appeal permitted Imburgia to bring her suit as a class action, reasoning that “law of your state” must be interpreted without regard to any preemptive effect of the FAA. A Ninth Circuit decision interpreting the same contract found this argument “nonsensical” because a preempted law—whether a statute or a common law rule—is a nullity; it cannot be “the law of your state” because once it is held preempted, it is not “the law.” The issue is this case is whether the California Court of Appeal erred by holding, in direct conflict with the Ninth Circuit, that a reference to state law in an arbitration agreement governed by the FAA requires the application of state law preempted by the FAA. PLF’s amicus brief argues that, under the Supremacy Clause, preempted state law must yield completely.

Spokeo v. Robins 
Issue: Spokeo, Inc. runs a website that collects and publishes consumer “credit estimates.” Thomas Robins sued Spokeo in federal court for willful violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act because it published false information—specifically, that Robins was older, married with children, had a graduate degree, and was wealthy. The issue raised in this case is whether Congress may confer Article III standing upon a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm by allowing individuals to sue based on a bare violation of a federal statute. The trial court held that Spokeo’s statutory violations only caused speculative harm to Robins, and that he, therefore, lacked Article III standing. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that any plaintiff who alleged a willful statutory violation could be assumed to suffer an injury caused by that violation. PLF’s amicus briefs at the cert. stage and on the merits argue that Congress cannot unilaterally expand Article III standing beyond its constitutional limits. They also argue that lawsuits that don’t involve actual personal harm are a drain on economic and judicial resources.

 

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