||Brian T. Hodges
Pacific Legal Foundation
Pacific Northwest Center, Bellevue, WA
PLF celebrates 20th anniversary of its Northwest Center
Bellevue, Washington; June 4, 2012: This month marks the kickoff of the 20th anniversary celebrations for Pacific Legal Foundation’s first regional office — its Pacific Northwest (PNW) Center, headquartered in Bellevue, Washington.
The founding of the PNW Center in 1992 was a major milestone in PLF’s history, giving added momentum to PLF’s mission to “rescue liberty” by litigating for property rights, free enterprise, individual liberty, and a balanced approach to environmental protections, in courts nationwide.
PLF itself was founded in 1973, in Sacramento, by former aides to then-Governor Ronald Reagan. They were responding to Reagan’s call for creation of a “public interest” legal organization for the true public interest — liberty and limited government, as guaranteed by the Constitution.
PLF recognized — and responded to — the need
for a property rights champion in the Pacific Northwest
During its first 19 years of existence, PLF litigated aggressively across the country from its Sacramento headquarters. But by the early 1990s, it became clear there was a particular need for a permanent PLF presence in the Northwest.
“More and more, this region was becoming an important front line in the battle for people’s property rights and balanced environmental regulations,” said Brian T. Hodges, the current managing attorney in the PNW office.
PLF responded in 1992 by setting up the PNW Center — the foundation’s first regional office — initially in Portland and eventually in the Seattle area.
“From early on, we began winning precedent-setting cases that continue to have a guiding impact on the law,” said Hodges. “From the first, our achievements defied the skeptics, putting us on a path to success that continues today.”
John Groen, the first managing attorney for the PNW Center, remembers that, from the first, it was a “David vs. Goliath” operation. Arriving in a court hearing to defend property rights, he saw that he would be facing an arsenal of attorneys on the other side — but the odds were still with PLF! “People understood why we were needed — and why PLF’s presence is still needed in the region — to push back against the ever-increasing encroachment of government in so many areas, including property rights.”
PLF hosts a birthday party and briefing on Monday, June 4, 2012, at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue. The evening will include a recounting of some of PLF’s greatest accomplishments in the region, and appearances by clients past and present, including Mike and Chantell Sackett, who won this year’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court victory over abusive federal regulators, in Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Twenty years of landmark victories in the Pacific Northwest
The PNW Center has won scores of victories over the past two decades. Here are some highlights, illustrating how PLF’s presence has changed the landscape of the law in the region, while defending average people who’ve been victimized by overreaching government:
Property owners aren’t society’s cash cows
Under the leadership of John Groen, the PNW office’s founding managing attorney, PLF scored precedent-setting victories at the Washington Supreme Court in such cases as Robinson v. City of Seattle and Sintra, Inc. v. City of Seattle. These rulings upheld the rights of property owners who had been subjected to fees designed to provide for general social needs, such as housing. The court affirmed the constitutional principle that owners of property cannot be singled out to fund general social services, a cost that should be shared by all taxpayers.
Property owners beat bi-national bureaucrats
Herbert and Shirley-Anne Leu live in Blaine, Washington, just south of the Canadian border. With proper permits, they built a retaining wall to protect their backyard. But then the little-known United States International Boundary Commission ordered it destroyed as an encroachment on a “boundary vista.” PLF argued that the agency had not provided notice and offered no compensation. The order was withdrawn — a victory for property rights against unaccountable international bureaucracies. Leu v. International Boundary Commission.
Government can’t de-“vest” landowners of their rights
Brian and Jody Bea wanted to build a home overlooking the Columbia River Gorge on land that had long been in Brian’s family. After years of working with local officials, they received their permit. But when the home was nearly complete, the unelected Columbia River Gorge Commission ordered it torn down as a “view obstruction.” PLF took the case to the Washington Supreme Court, which ruled that the commission had overstepped. The Beas’ nightmare was over, and the vested rights of property owners were upheld against unpredictable whims of regulators. Skamania County v. Columbia River Gorge Commission.
Government land grab defeated
King County, Washington, adopted a rule requiring rural property owners to set aside up to 65 percent of their property in a permanent state of “natural vegetation.” With PLF leading the challenge, the Washington State Court of Appeals struck it down. “This is a great day for King County property owners, who — after almost four years — have been given back their property,” said Brian T. Hodges, managing attorney with PLF’s Northwest office, following PLF’s victory. Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights v. Sims.
“Stream buffers” can’t drown property rights
Kipp and Marilyn Dunlap planned to build a home on their small lot in Nooksack, Washington. But a stream crosses the property, and the city used that as an excuse for onerous restrictions: Their home couldn’t be larger than 480 square feet, and it would have to be raised on stilts! The court of appeals sided with PLF: The city’s “stream buffers” imposed a taking. Dunlap v. City of Nooksack.
Forcing regulators to stop undercounting salmon
Alsea Valley Alliance v. Evans was a landmark ruling won by the late Russ Brooks during his storied tenure as managing attorney of the PNW office. Impact: Hatchery raised salmon can’t be ignored in listing decisions. Indeed, hatcheries have sustained salmon in the Northwest for over a century.
Saving a homeowner from erosion
Vicki Luhrs’ home, facing Hale Passage, North of Puget Sound, was threatened by shoreline erosion. The Army Corps of Engineers and expert geologists determined that only a rock revetment would save her property. But local officials would permit only inadequate bio-engineered methods, such as grass. After legal proceedings that went to the state court of appeals and back to trial court, the county eventually permitted the “hard” revetment. “PLF’s help was invaluable,” said Vicki. “Thank you!” Luhrs v. Whatcom County.
U.S. Supreme Court: EPA is not above the law
At the nation’s highest court, PLF attorneys this year successfully stood up for Idaho residents Mike and Chantell Sackett — and for the rights of all property owners, nationwide — by winning a precedent-setting victory against abusive behavior by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. By a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court held that landowners have a right to immediate judicial review if EPA tries to grab control of their property by labeling it “wetlands” and issuing a heavy-handed “compliance order.” Sackett v. EPA.
About Pacific Legal Foundation and its PNW Center
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation (www.pacificlegal.org) is the leading legal watchdog organization that litigates for limited government and property rights, in courts nationwide. PLF’s Pacific Northwest office is located in Bellevue, Washington.