Issues

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, 

VICTORY!

Bruner v. Zawacki: The court granted Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment

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Economic Liberty

  • Castillo v. Ingram - PLF attorneys are challenging a Nevada law that forces private investigators to get a license—and defines “private investigator” to include practically anyone who researches and publishes information, in violation of the First Amendment. Worse, the law forces investigators to maintain an office in Nevada, violating the constitutional right to do business across state lines.
  • Liberty Coins, LLC v. David Goodman - Liberty Coins, an Ohio small business, is challenging that state’s licensing requirement that requires precious metal dealers to get licenses not if they deal in precious metals, but only if they also advertise that they do.  In other words, you can buy gold without a license, you just can’t say so.  PLF argues that licensing laws that are triggered by free speech violate the First Amendment.
  • North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission - North Carolina deputized a group of practicing dentists to regulate the dental industry. Unsurprisingly, they used their authority to block competition, in violation of federal antitrust laws. But because they are a state agency, they argue that they’re exempt from those laws.  PLF argues that the Board should be subject to the same antitrust laws as everyone else.
  • Young v. Heineman - California internet entrepreneur Leslie Young helps people advertise their homes as “for sale by owner.”  Because some of the homes were in Nebraska, that state’s real estate licensing board claims she’s practicing real estate without a license. PLF argues that the First Amendment doesn’t allow the state to force someone to get permission before publishing advertisements.

VICTORY!

People v. Rinehart: The California Court of Appeals issued a favorable decision on September 23, 2014

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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.

VICTORY!

Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s decision to ban governmental racial classifications.

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Equality Under the Law

  • 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.
  • Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama – PLF attorneys are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hold that any time a state uses race when drawing voting district lines, its actions are presumptively unconstitutional and can only be upheld in extraordinary circumstances.  The Court should expand on earlier voting rights cases to ensure that race is rarely, if ever, used as a factor when drawing district lines.
  • 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 allow 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.
  • Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.  – PLF attorneys are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hold that the Fair Housing Act does not allow plaintiffs to bring claims of “disparate impact” because the Act prohibits only intentional discrimination, not the unintentional effects of race-neutral policies.

VICTORY!

Medina v. Hochberg: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a favorable decision on May 13, 2013

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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.

  • Limones v. School District of Lee County - Arguing to the Florida Supreme Court that the state's common law does not create a duty for property owners, including schools, to maintain Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) on the premises.
  • 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.

VICTORY!

Harris v. Quinn: Victory for workers!

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Individual Rights

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.

VICTORY!

St. Johns River Water Management District v. Koontz: The U.S. Supreme Court issued a favorable decision on June 25, 2013

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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.

  • Daniel and Maria Levin v. City and County of San Francisco - Challenging the City of San Francisco’s onerous tenant relocation ordinance requiring landlords to subsidize tenants’ rent for two years just to take property off the rental market as an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment.
  • Kentner v. City of Sanibel - Urging the United States Supreme Court to review the 11th Circuit’s bizarre holding that the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment does not protect property rights.
  • Lynch v. California Coastal Commission - Fighting to vindicate property owners’ rights under the Coastal Act and the Constitution to protect property from erosion and to replace structures destroyed by natural disasters.
  • Sansotta v. Town of Nags Head - Challenging Town’s declaration that private cottages are a nuisance merely because of their location on the beach and the Town’s refusal to issue repair permits as an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment.
  • St. Johns River Water Management District v. Koontz - Vindicating property owners’ constitutional right not to have private property, including money, extorted from them during the permitting process.

PLF in the Supreme Court

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Court Victories

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 seven wins in its last seven direct appearances before the High Court for its clients, including two in the last two years.

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

Horne v. U.S. Department of Agriculture
Issue: Are the USDA’s raisin market regulations, which require raisin growers to either divert a portion of their crop from the open market to a USDA reserve or face monetary assessments and fines, an unconstitutional taking?

Status: PLF filed an amicus brief in support of the Hornes, Fresno area raisin growers who refused to turn over a portion of their crop. The petition for writ of certiorari is pending.

Kentner v. City of Sanibel
Issue: The City of Sanibel, Florida, enacted an ordinance that prohibits new construction of docks and accessory piers within an area fronting San Carlos Bay. The petioners — owners of waterfront property — challenged the ordinance, claiming that the outright ban on new docks violates substantive due process. The Eleventh Circuit ruled against David and Susan Kentner.

Status: PLF attorneys directly represent the Kentners and several other property owners in challenging the ordinance as a violation of their property rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. PLF filed the petition for certiorari on October 3, 2014.

Liberty Coins, LLC, et al. v. David Goodman, et al.
Issue: Liberty Coins, a precious metal dealer, argues that the First Amendment protects its right to advertise and solicit for customers, and that a state may not forbid such advertisements and solicitations because the lawfully operating dealer has not complied with nonmandatory onerous licensing requirements.

Status: PLF attorneys directly represent the petitioner in claiming that advertisement of the otherwise lawful activity of purchasing precious metals is protected speech under the First Amendment, and a licensing requirement that restricts such advertising is a content-based restriction on speech subject to strict scrutiny. PLF filed the petition for certiorari on October 3, 2014.

North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission
Issue: Should a board, consisting entirely of practicing dentists, enjoy the complete immunity from prosecution under antitrust laws? PLF’s amicus brief will argue that a regulatory entity that is made up of active members of the industry who have direct conflict of interest and who are not supervised by the state cannot enjoy complete immunity. The Federal Trade Commission initiated antitrust proceedings against the Board of Dental Examiners when it began taking action against unlicensed persons offering teeth-whitening services.

Status: The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari on May 3, 2014. PLF attorneys filed an amicus brief on August 6, 2014, in support of the Federal Trade Commission. Argument is set for October 14, 2014.

Spokeo v. Robbins

Issue: Standing to sue for damages requires real injury. Spokeo, Inc., runs a website that collects and publishes consumer “credit estimates.” Thomas Robins, an unemployed man, sued Spokeo in federal court for willful violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, alleging that Spokeo published false information. The trial court held that Spokeo’s statutory violations did not cause Robins anything other than speculative harm, and that he, therefore, lacked standing under Article III of the Constitution which requires that there be a “case or controversy.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, however, holding that it would assume that any plaintiff who alleged a willful statutory violation had suffered an injury caused by that violation. As amicus in support of Spokeo’s petition for certiorari, PLF argues that standing to sue for damages requires real injury.

Status: PLF attorneys filed an amicus brief on June 2, 2014.  On October 6th, the Court asked the Solicitor General's office to file a brief.

Stewart & Jasper Orchards v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Issue: Representing several California farmers, PLF attorneys are challenging the biological opinion (BiOp) by federal agencies used to restrict water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in order to protect the Delta smelt, a small fish listed under the Endangered Species Act. In 2012, PLF previously sought Supreme Court review of the case on a Commerce Clause challenge because smelt are in intrastate species, but the High Court denied cert. With a recent adverse ruling at the Ninth Circuit on the biological opinion, it sets up reconsideration of the Supreme Court’s TVA v. Hill decision, relied on by the Ninth Circuit to uphold the smelt BiOp. In TVA v. Hill, the court held that the protection of every endangered species is the highest priority of the federal government, regardless of the cost. The result has been a heavy-handed, top-down bureaucracy that frustrates human interests and species conservation.

Status: On July 23, 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied rehearing before the entire court, leaving an adverse ruling from March in place. PLF attorneys filed a petition for certiorari on September 30, 2014.

Texas Department of Housing v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.
Issue: The Texas Department of Housing was sued over its allocation of federal tax credits to developers of affordable housing projects. The Department was sued under the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) because it approved more tax credits for projects that would be located in minority neighborhoods than non-minority neighborhoods. The lawsuit alleges that, although the Department followed state and federal law, it created a disparate impact on minorities by providing more tax credits in minority neighborhoods.

Status: PLF attorneys filed an amicus brief on June 16, 2014, arguing that disparate impact claims are not cognizable under the FHA. Petition for certiorari granted October 2, 2014.

Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency
Issue: Here, the Supreme Court took up six challenges to one of the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations — this one applying to the regulation of millions of “stationary sources” such as apartment houses, malls, hotels, as well as power plants and factories. At issue here was whether EPA had properly established standards for carbon dioxide before applying them nationwide.

Status: PLF attorneys filed PLF's amicus brief on December 13, 2013, and the Court issued a mixed decision on June 23, 2014. In a nutshell, the Court held that the regulations could not apply to facilities that are not already regulated under the Clean Air Act. Thus, the Court threw out the application of the new regulations to apartments, office buildings, malls and the like, but kept them in place for power plants and large factories. It is estimated the decision saved Americans $147 billion in new permitting costs.

Yates v. United States
Issue: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Florida commercial fisherman John Yates to determine if the federal government lawfully charged him with violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act when a member of his fishing crew allegedly threw three undersized fish overboard after being cited at sea by a state fish and wildlife officer for having 72 undersized fish in his catch. PLF argues that it was an abuse of the government’s power to charge Yates with violating a federal financial crimes and record-keeping law, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Status: PLF attorneys are representing the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, the Southeastern Fisheries Association, the Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara, the California Abalone Association, and the California Sea Urchin Commission as amicus curiae in support of petitioner John Yates. PLF filed its brief on July 7, 2014.

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