March 26, 2014

The Supreme Court backs away from the concept of "prudential" standing.

I'm reading the new case Lexmark International v. Static Control Components, a seemingly very boring case about toner cartridges. This is a unanimous opinion that's mostly about false or misleading conduct under the Lanham Act, which I'm not going to bother you about. I just want to point to the material about standing, which is of interest to those of us who follow constitutional law and federal courts.

If you are still reading, you probably know that there is a constitutional level to standing doctrine, which is very well articulated in the cases of the last 40 years. As the new case puts it:
From Article III’s limitation of the judicial power to resolving “Cases” and “Controversies,” and the separation-of-powers principles underlying that limitation, we have deduced a set of requirements that together make up the “irreducible constitutional minimum of standing.” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U. S. 555, 560 (1992) . The plaintiff must have suffered or be imminently threatened with a concrete and particularized “injury in fact” that is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant and likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision….
Then there's also what's referred to as "prudential," supposedly the sub-constitutional level of doctrine. This is much less well articulated and the new case — stressing the federal courts' "virtually unflagging" obligation to decide cases within their jurisdiction — backs away from the concept:

In recent decades...  we have adverted to a “prudential” branch of standing, a doctrine not derived from Article III and “not exhaustively defined” but encompassing (we have said) at least three broad principles: “ ‘the general prohibition on a litigant’s raising another person’s legal rights, the rule barring adjudication of generalized grievances more appropriately addressed in the representative branches, and the requirement that a plaintiff’s complaint fall within the zone of interests protected by the law invoked.’ ” Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U. S. 1, 12 (2004) (quoting Allen v. Wright, 468 U. S. 737, 751 (1984) )…

Although we admittedly have placed [the zone-of-interest] test under the “prudential” rubric in the past, see, e.g., Elk Grove, it does not belong there any more than Associated General Contractors does. Whether a plaintiff comes within “the ‘zone of interests’ ” is an issue that requires us to determine, using traditional tools of statutory interpretation, whether a legislatively conferred cause of action encompasses a particular plaintiff’s claim. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U. S. 83, and n. 2 (1998); Clarke v. Securities Industry Assn., 479 U. S. 388–395 (1987); Holmes, supra, at 288 (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment). As Judge Silberman of the D. C. Circuit recently observed, “ ‘prudential standing’ is a misnomer” as applied to the zone-of-interests analysis, which asks whether “this particular class of persons ha[s] a right to sue under this substantive statute.” Association of Battery Recyclers, Inc. v. EPA, 716 F. 3d 667, 675–676 (2013) (concurring opinion).
At this point there's a footnote:
The zone-of-interests test is not the only concept that we have previously classified as an aspect of "prudential standing" but for which, upon closer inspection, we have found that label inapt. Take, for example, our reluctance to entertain generalized grievances — i.e., suits "claiming only harm to [the plaintiff's] and every citizen's interest in proper application of the Constitution and laws, and seeking relief that no more directly and tangibly benefits him than it does the public at large." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U. S. 555, 573-574 (1992). While we have at times grounded our reluctance to entertain such suits in the "counsels of prudence" (albeit counsels "close[ly] relat[ed] to the policies reflected in" Article III), Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U. S. 464, 475 (1982), we have since held that such suits do not present constitutional "cases" or "controversies." See, e.g., Lance v. Coffman, 549 U. S. 437, 439 (2007) (per curiam); DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U. S. 332, 344-346 (2006); Defenders of Wildlife, supra, at 573-574. They are barred for constitutional reasons, not "prudential" ones. The limitations on third-party standing are harder to classify; we have observed that third-party standing is " 'closely related to the question whether a person in the litigant's position will have a right of action on the claim,' " Department of Labor v. Triplett, 494 U. S. 715, 721, n. ** (1990) (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U. S. 490, 500, n. 12 (1975)), but most of our cases have not framed the inquiry in that way. See, e.g., Kowalski v. Tesmer, 543 U. S. 125, 128-129 (2004) (suggesting it is an element of "prudential standing"). This case does not present any issue of third-party standing, and consideration of that doctrine's proper place in the standing firmament can await another day.
ADDED: This may be the most boring post I've ever written... at least from the perspective of the general reader. But this is the kind of material I've taught in class for the last 30 years. And you should have see the part I edited out, like the news that toner is "the powdery ink that laser printers use to create images on paper."

24 comments:

SJ said...

The argument has a mostly-clear structure, even if the meaning of the terms and references are opaque to me on first read.

Suppose there's a current political controversy that would come to the Supreme Court, if someone could get standing in the case.

Do the comments that you highlight show signs of a loosening of the rules about standing? Or are they just a clarification of terms?

My first impression is that the comments are mostly a clarification of terms. But I'm not really confident in that interpretation.

PatHMV said...

You mean you, a law professor, have written a post about a boring, dry, technical (but very important) field of law?

RecChief said...

ok, so you have to draw it in the dirt for us former infantry types. It looks to me like the Court just limited the ability of citizens to address grievances, unless they can show some demonstrable harm, with their government.

Am I wrong? please explain in simple, knuckledragger terms.

mccullough said...

Not only do I dig the clearing away the underbrush of prudential standing from this case, I also represent clients who are in the recycled toner cartridge business and this is an important case to them.

Smilin' Jack said...

And you should have see the part I edited out, like the news that toner is "the powdery ink that laser printers use to create images on paper."

Umm...that sounds likely to be the most interesting part.

Richard Dolan said...

I read the decision yesterday, and was struck by Scalia's effort to clean up the terminology, and in the process the analysis. (I was also struck by the number of times Scalia cited his own opinion in an earlier case concurring in the court's ruling but for his own reasons.)

There was a case earlier this Term where the Court was addressing a similarly confused terminological landscape having to do with a case filed in Forum A where the parties had signed an agreement designating Forum B as the exclusive forum to resolve their disputes. If I remember it correctly, it was an appeal from a 5th Circuit decision and there was a disagreement about whether the case had to be dismissed, or should be transferred. But the most interesting aspect of the case was an amicus brief from a law prof who argued that the parties and the lower courts had gotten confused by the labels (was the issue one of jurisdiction, standing, something else?). The purpose of his amicus filing was to try to straighten out the confusion. Volokh had blogged about it.

richlb said...

I'm waiting on Crack Emcee's take on this.

Iapetus said...

Does/Can the Court create a "zone of interest" and put a plaintiff within it if the Court discovers a previously hidden penumbra or emanation within the Constitution?

R. Chatt said...

I recently listened to the Hollingsworth v. Perry case which was very interesting. Private parties were deemed to not have standing to fight for Prop. 8. But this idea of prudential standing is still unclear.

Xmas said...

I'm surprised this sort of note didn't come up during the Prop 8 case.

And for smiling Jack...

How a Laser Printer Works

paminwi said...

That whole Prop8 thing from California to me says what a faced up world we live in. The citizens brought forth a proposition as they are allowed to do, the citizens voted, and a result was reached. Then,some folks said they were aggrieved (individuals), and the whole thing ends up at the Supreme Court with individuals asking for their vote to count and they get shot down because they don't have "standing" because their elected officials caved and would not represent the vote citizens participated in.

Pretty soon there will be no one with standing and citizens will be screwed but groups of any kind will control everything.

I am not a lawyer just a rube that thinks our legal system seems I get more fucked up every day.

RecChief said...

I'm with you Pamiwi.

cubanbob said...

" we have adverted to a “prudential” branch of standing, a doctrine not derived from Article III and “not exhaustively defined” but encompassing (we have said) at least three broad principles: “ ‘the general prohibition on a litigant’s raising another person’s legal rights, the rule barring adjudication of generalized grievances more appropriately addressed in the representative branches, and the requirement that a plaintiff’s complaint fall within the zone of interests protected by the law invoked.’ ” Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U. S. 1, 12 (2004) (quoting Allen v. Wright, 468 U. S. 737, 751 (1984) )…"

Dry, technical and boring? Yes. Unimportant or inconsequential? Absolutely not. This one the cores of evil that lets government screw people over left and right as it panders to politicians base and constituents.

Elise Ronan said...

What is SCOTUS trying to forestall? By limiting so dramatically standing it limits the average persons ability to seek redress for governmental wrongs. What do they think is going to happen in the foreseeable future that frightens them?

Sam L. said...

Could someone be so kind as to tell me just WHAT this case is about? I am clueless.

DS said...

The case is actually pretty interesting. Lexmark sends notices to makers of aftermarket toner cartridges telling them that it would be illegal to sell cartridges using control circuitry from Static Control, because they were suing Static Control for patent violations. Under the Lanham Act, which established a cause of action for false advertising, Static Control sued.

There's a certain reading of the Lanham Act, one that Lexmark was pushing (edit: wrote "printing" here earlier, haha), that only a *competitor* could bring such a suit. Static Control isn't a competitor in that sense. Applying a "prudential standing" test, however, really didn't have anything to do with this particular case. Instead, the case is about different standards of determining standing under the Lanham Act specifically, not as a general Article III matter.

Rusty said...

ADDED: This may be the most boring post I've ever written... at least from the perspective of the general reader. But this is the kind of material I've taught in class for the last 30 years.

Nope, but close. I get Hobbs now. It was either that or a rope over a beam in the garage.

David said...

Boring, maybe, if difficult is boring.

Leit Bart said...

This makes me think about Obamacare. So many people are treated differently under this law of TAXATION. If your spouse has "affordable" coverage (but only coverage for him), you get no subsidies; that's one example. Have you any standing to argue EP?

Then there's the unilateral and constant re-writes which are killing employers. Have employers from states in which no exchanges are state-run have standing to sue because employers from other states operate under a state-run exchange, thereby limiting their competitiveness as an employer?

Do individuals now have EP standing because their qualification for subsidies varies from state to state?

Does anyone have standing to sue because Obama is unilaterally re-writing the ACA without lawful, Congressional amendments?

Hmm. Lots of food for thought. I'll go read the opinion now, now that I know about it. In the meantime, thanks for the standing alert. I'd say this is one of your all-time greatest hits, Prof. Alt.

Kirk Parker said...

paminwi,

Then it moves on to that fourth, and final box (the cartridge box.) I'm not advocating this, mind you, it will be a full-fledged catastrophe. But that is where we are heading, and I really resent the folks who try to hasten that day.

Unknown said...

Could Congress pass a law that defines who can pursue addressing what the court is responsible to address, i.e. standing?

cubanbob said...

Could Congress pass a law that defines who can pursue addressing what the court is responsible to address, i.e. standing?"

Presumably yes and probably not.

Mary E. Glynn said...

ADDED: I've undisplayed the entire comments thread here because of a problem commenter, believed by some to be a sockpuppet, all the many commenters who engaged with her/him, and the haphazard self-deletions that followed. Sorry to take this harsh remedy, but I did not see the problem until things were far gone.
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Wasn't me...

ventura-capitalist said...

Who would have standing to enforce the 22nd amendment should President Jarrett decide to run for a third term?