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Standing to Sue

3. What is “standing” to sue in a civil trial?

Standing is the requirement that a person have a legally recognizable interest in a dispute before the court. In summary, to seek redress before the court, a person must suffer a loss or harm caused by the defendant(s). This rule seeks to ascertain that there is indeed an adversarial relationship between the plaintiff and defendant.

To have standing, a plaintiff must demonstrate two things to the court:

•    Legal Wrong – The complaint, as written, must demonstrate a legal controversy. That is, there must be a legal wrong that took place. A legal wrong is an action that is prohibited by law and, if proven, may allow the plaintiff redress.

•    Personal Stake – The plaintiff must show that she has a personal stake in the dispute or controversy with the named defendant. This means that she must be the one wronged. For example, a plaintiff cannot generally sue someone for harming another person who is not closely related to her. While she may be negatively affected, she is not the individual directly suffering the harm. Her harm is incidental.

Standing does not depend upon the validity or merits of the case. It only depends upon the relationship and nature of the controversy between the parties. Standing is determined at the time of filing the action. It does not matter if the plaintiff suffers harm at some time well after the dispute arises. She must have suffered the harm prior to the commencement of the action.

•    Discussion: During the economic meltdown of 2007, many people suffered financially as a result of actions of others. Should those generally affected by the poor economy be able to sue those who played a major role in the downturn? Would granting standing to such people open the court to an unmanageable flood of cases?

•    Practice Question: Angel is a big fan of Kim, a professional celebrity. Ryanne is a musician and celebrity who speaks ill of Kim on social media. Angel is so offended by Ryanne’s conduct that she initiates a lawsuit against her for defamation. What is Ryanne’s primary defense against Angel’s action?

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