You are here

Case or Controversy: Standing to Sue

15 January, 2016 - 09:29

Article III of the US Constitution provides limits to federal judicial power. For some cases, the Supreme Court has decided that it has no power to adjudicate because there is no “case or controversy.” For example, perhaps the case has settled or the “real parties in interest” are not before the court. In such a case, a court might dismiss the case on the grounds that the plaintiff does not have “standing” to sue.

For example, suppose you see a sixteen-wheel moving van drive across your neighbor’s flower bed, destroying her beloved roses. You have enjoyed seeing her roses every summer, for years. She is forlorn and tells you that she is not going to raise roses there anymore. She also tells you that she has decided not to sue, because she has made the decision to never deal with lawyers if at all possible. Incensed, you decide to sue on her behalf. But you will not have standing to sue because your person or property was not directly injured by the moving van. Standing means that only the person whose interests are directly affected has the legal right to sue.

The standing doctrine is easy to understand in straightforward cases such as this but is often a fairly complicated matter. For example, can fifteen or more state attorneys general bring a lawsuit for a declaratory judgment that the health care legislation passed in 2010 is unconstitutional? What particular injury have they (or the states) suffered? Are they the best set of plaintiffs to raise this issue? Time—and the Supreme Court—will tell.