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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.
Relevant Cases on Standing
It is axiomatic that Art. III of the Constitution imposes a “threshold requirement . . . that those who seek to invoke the power of federal courts must allege an actual case or controversy.” O’Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 493; To satisfy the requirement, plaintiffs must allege “some threatened or actual injury,” Linda R. S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 617, that is “real and immediate” and not conjectural or hypothetical. Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 103, 108-109. Furthermore, and of greatest relevance here: “The fundamental aspect of standing is that it focuses on the party seeking to get his complaint before a federal court and not on the issues he wishes to have adjudicated.
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?
- This begs the question of how directly someone must be affected in order to bring a legal action and have standing. Generally, standing requires some degree of directness in the harm. Someone generally affected by the poor economy would not be able to demonstrate standing. This question remains, should they have standing?
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?
- The defense of Ryanne would be that Angel does not have the legal standing to institute the case before the court. Angel does not have a personal stake in the case, as the defamation at issues does not relate her. In this scenario, the person who would have the legal standing to bring the suit to court would be Kim, since he is personally affected (i.e., has a personal stake in the case).
Sassman, Wyatt, A Survey of Constitutional Standing in State Courts (2015). 8 Ky. J. Equine, Agric., & Nat. Resources L. 349 (2015-2016) . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2977348
Grove, Tara Leigh, Government Standing and the Fallacy of Institutional Injury (March 5, 2018). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 167, 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3134464
Nelson, Caleb, ‘Standing’ and Remedial Rights in Administrative Law (August 20, 2018). Virginia Law Review, Vol. 105, 2019; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2018-49. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3235637
Garrett, Brandon L., The Constitutional Standing of Corporations (November 21, 2014). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 163, 2014; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2013-33. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2330972
Cassuto, David N., Legal Standing for Animals and Advocates (June 13, 2009). Animal Law Review, Vol. 13, No. 61, 2006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1419004
Baude, William, Standing in the Shadow of Congress (2016). 2016 Supreme Court Review 197. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3220788
Kim, Kylie Chiseul, The Case Against Prudential Standing: Examining the Courts’ Use of Prudential Standing Before and After Lexmark (April 9, 2018). Kylie Chiseul Kim, The Case Against Prudential Standing: Examining the Courts’ Use of Prudential Standing Before and After Lexmark, 85 Tenn. L. Rev. 303 (2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3163830
Magill, M. Elizabeth, Standing for the Public: A Lost History (June 11, 2009). Virginia Law Review, Vol. 95, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1417936
Wildermuth, Amy J. and Davies, Lincoln L., Standing, on Appeal (2010). University of Illinois Law Review, No. 3, pp. 957-1012, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2241283