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Logo of the Pacific Legal Foundation
|Formation||March 5, 1973|
930 G St|
(FYE December 2014)
Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is the first and oldest conservative/libertarian public interest law firm in the United States. PLF was established for the purpose of defending and promoting individual and economic freedom in the courts. To that end, PLF attorneys litigate, file amicus curiae briefs, and participate in administrative proceedings with the goal of supporting free enterprise, private property rights, limited & unrestrictive environmental regulation, and the principle of limited government.
PLF is a non-profit organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. PLF does not charge for legal services, but instead provides representation in cases raising policy issues that go beyond the narrow interest of the parties before the court.
Incorporated in Sacramento, California, on March 5, 1973, PLF's staff was originally composed mainly of individuals who had been a part of then-Governor Ronald Reagan's welfare reform team. Operating on a proposed budget of $117,000 for the first 10 months of operation, PLF attorneys began litigation activities in June 1973 under the direction of Ronald A. Zumbrun, PLF's first president. Over the four decades of PLF's existence, its attorneys have obtained favorable decisions from many of the nation's courts.
PLF's property rights cases have focused on regulatory takings. The Foundation's attorneys have successfully argued four takings cases at the United States Supreme Court: Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Palazzolo v. Rhode Island, and Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District.
PLF's environmental law litigation has frequently involved challenges to federal regulation of private property under the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act. For example, PLF attorneys represented a Minnesota property owner who was denied the right to build on his property in Contoski v. Scarlett, a case that resulted in the removal of the bald eagle from the endangered species list.
The PLF was lead plaintiff in one of the first known Strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) suits in the U.S., which attempted to obtain the mailing list of the Abalone Alliance to get the group to pay for the police costs of the largest anti-nuclear civil-disobedience act in U.S. history, at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. The case was rejected multiple times for PLF's lack of standing, and was eventually dismissed altogether. The PLF stated that it did receive funding from utility companies, but would not disclose whether PG&E, the plant's owner, had contributed.
PLF has participated in cases challenging government-sponsored race and sex preferences, both under the federal Constitution's Equal Protection Clause and state constitutional provisions such as California's Proposition 209 and Washington's I 200. Under its "Free Enterprise Project," PLF argues that certain licensing laws and similar regulations violate the individual right to earn a living and result in a loss of jobs and a lower standard of living for Americans.
PLF has been involved in a number of cases before the United States Supreme Court and other courts. PLF's Supreme Court victories include Nollan v. California Coastal Commission (1987),Keller v. State Bar of California (1990),Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (1997),Palazzolo v. Rhode Island (2001), and Rapanos v. United States (2006). PLF principal attorney Sharon L. Browne won two significant victories in the California Supreme Court, upholding the constitutionality of Proposition 209.
On January 9, 2012, PLF attorney Damien M. Schiff presented oral argument in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency before the United States Supreme Court. That case challenges EPA's practice of unilaterally asserting jurisdiction over private property without a hearing and without judicial review. In a unanimous opinion issued on March 21, 2012, the Court sided with PLF and the Sacketts, ruling that EPA's compliance orders are subject to immediate judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
On January 15, 2013, PLF attorney Paul J. Beard II presented oral argument in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District before the United States Supreme Court. That case asks whether the Nollan and Dolan nexus limitation and a proportionality test apply to an exaction in the form of a government demand that the permit applicant make off-site improvements; and whether these same Nollan and Dolan doctrines extend to permit exactions, where the permit has been denied due to the applicant's rejection of that exaction. A decision in favor of the property owner was handed down on June 25, 2013.
PLF's Program for Judicial Awareness facilitates the publication of scholarly articles in legal-academic journals, operates an annual essay competition for law students, and awards grants for faculty research leading to the publication of important legal scholarship.
Since 1979, PLF has offered College of Public Interest Law (CPIL) fellowships to recent law school graduates who want hands-on experience and who wish to pursue public interest litigation.