Permit needed to keep trespassers off private property

Yesterday, a San Mateo Superior Court judge issued a stunning tentative ruling in one of the two Martins Beach lawsuits pending against coastal landowner Vinod Khosla.

The judge concluded that the decision to disallow the public to trespass onto private property–after allowing the public to do so for a fee–constitutes “development” requiring a Coastal Development Permit from the California Coastal Commission.  The immediate effect of the ruling, if it becomes final, is that it forces Khosla to re-open his private property while he applies for a permit allowing him either to close it off or to modify the terms and conditions of public access.

Continue reading

PLF’s Timothy Sandefur discusses occupational licensing and economic freedom on Cato’s Daily Podcast

In this Cato Daily Podcast, I discuss two PLF cases involving occupational licensing laws and the right to earn a living: our case on behalf of California entrepreneur Leslie Young and her business, elist.me, in which the state of Nebraska is arguing that you have to have a state real estate broker license before you can help advertise property “for sale by owner”–and the North Carolina Dental Examiners case, which asks whether private parties are exempt from the antitrust laws when they use government to monopolize a trade.

EPA abandons poultry farm appeal

The EPA has withdrawn its appeal of a West Virginia federal district court’s decision holding that the Clean Water Act’s regulatory regime for industrial stormwater does not apply to runoff from a poultry farm, where the “industrial” aspects of that poultry farm occur in housed and closed-off areas.  That’s good news for Lois Alt, the property owner, as well as livestock and poultry producers throughout the country.  Nevertheless, the appeal in the Fourth Circuit may still proceed if several environmental groups are allowed to intervene.  If so, we hope to participate as amicus to defend the district court’s reasonable interpretation of the statute.

Court of Appeal deals a blow to the state’s ban on suction dredge mining

The California Court of Appeal has issued a decision that seriously undermines California’s ban on suction dredge mining. Adopting the argument of our amicus brief, the Court held that a state ban forbidding all commercially beneficial use of a federal mining claim is preempted by federal mining law.

Brandon Rinehart has a federal mining claim in a streambed in the Plumas National Forest. He claims that the only way he can work this claim is by using suction dredge mining equipment. However, California has banned the use of such equipment, citing environmental concerns. When Rinehart worked his claim anyway, he was criminally prosecuted.

As the Court recognized, this is a serious problem. Federal law expressly encourages individuals to find valuable resources on federal land and mine them. As the Supreme Court has explained, Congress’ intent is “to reward and encourage the discovery of minerals that are valuable in an economic sense.” States may not frustrate Congress’ purposes by prohibiting this activity on federal land.

The Court of Appeals held that state regulations are:

rendered unenforceable [if they] have rendered the exercise of rights granted by the federal mining laws “commercially impracticable.”

Continue reading

Will the Supreme Court finally get to rule on disparate impact?

Will the third time be the charm for having the U.S. Supreme Court decide whether disparate impact discrimination claims are allowed under the Fair Housing Act?  Later this month, on September 29th, the Court will decide whether to accept review in a case presenting that issue.  The case is called Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.  Attorneys for PLF filed a brief in support of review.  The Center for Equal Opportunity, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, Individual Rights FoundationReason Foundation, and Project 21 joined PLF in its brief.

The Supreme Court has never held that the Fair Housing Act prohibits disparate impact discrimination.  In fact, it has twice granted certiorari to address this very issue, but both previous cases settled before the Court could hear oral argument.  Those cases were Magner v. Gallagher, and Township of Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens CItizens in Action.

Continue reading

Chief Judge Kozinski skewers Guam lawyer

Guam has created a political process that only allows Chamorros – and their ancestors — to vote on Guam independence.  This is a blatant attempt to restrict the right to vote on the basis of ancestry, and is prohibited by both the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act. Last year, PLF filed a brief in the case asking the Ninth Circuit to hold the discriminatory process unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit heard argument on the case a couple of weeks ago.  Continue reading

Can “pure” motives save an unconstitutional law?

The town of Gilbert, Arizona severely limits your right to post signs if you are inviting the public to your church. But those same restrictions do not apply if you are a politician touting your candidacy. According to Gilbert, its Sign Code is perfectly compatible with the First Amendment because it does not discriminate on the basis of content. Judge for yourself: Continue reading

Sacramento Bee publishes PLF Op-Ed on Martins Beach

On Sunday, the Sacramento Bee published my opinion editorial on the Martins Beach controversy, including legislative efforts to cow one landowner into giving up his property rights.

PLF attorneys are following the dispute closely, and they will support the property owner as a friend-of-the-court in an appeal from a San Mateo Superior Court ruling that the owner’s land, including Martins Beach, is private and protectable as such.

Federal courts can hold Forest Service accountable for fire conditions

Across the western United States, intense forest fires rage every summer, blackening millions of acres. One of the factors in the severity of these fires is the fuel conditions prevailing on many national forests.  For many decades the Forest Service has actively suppressed all fires, which has lead to a significant build up of fuel.  The Forest Service has worsened these conditions with policies that exclude timber, grazing, and other productive uses from the forests.  The Forest Service now states that 58 million acres of national forest lands have a high or very high potential for large wildfires that would be difficult to suppress.

Some states and local communities have had enough of the Forest Service imposing such massive risks to people, property, wildlife, and water resources.  In 2001 the State of New Mexico adopted a statute that authorizes its counties to identify major fire risks which the Forest Service is maintaining, and to take action to reduce those risks.  In 2011 Otero County in Southern New Mexico adopted an ordinance finding the conditions on the Lincoln National Forest to pose an emergency.  The County also began taking steps to abate this hazard, with or without the consent of the Forest Service.  Naturally, the federal government got right to work reducing the fire risk sued Otero County in federal court to establish that the County could not act unilaterally to abate the fire risk the Forest Service was imposing.

Last week Pacific Legal Foundation asked the court for leave to file this amicus brief in support of Otero County.  In the brief, we explain that federal law allows local governments to sue federal agencies for creating a public nuisance.  We further argue that the fire risk which the Forest Service is imposing on communities across the West is just such a public nuisance, and that the federal courts have full authority to order the Service to abate these conditions.

PLF appeals sea otter dismissal

PLF has filed its opening brief in the Ninth Circuit challenging the dismissal of a challenge brought by Southern California fishermen against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to violate federal law by terminating protections for them and their fishery guaranteed by Congress. The trial court dismissed the case, accepting the government’s argument that its decision to violate Congress’ directive can’t be challenged because the Service has previously violated the law. As our brief explains, two wrongs don’t give the government the right to violate the law unscrutinized. Congress has specifically provided all of us a right to challenge the illegal actions of bureaucrats. The fact that they may have gotten away with violating the law in the past is no defense.

To learn more about the case, check out our case page and video.