Standing to Challenge Lawfulness of Governmental Action.

Standing to challenge governmental action on statutory or other non-constitutional grounds has a constitutional content to the degree that Article III requires a “case” or “controversy,” necessitating a litigant who has sustained or will sustain an injury so that he will be moved to present the issue “in an adversary context and in a form historically viewed as capable of judicial resolution.”521 Liberalization of standing in the administrative law field has been notable.

The “old law” required that in order to sue to contest the lawfulness of agency administrative action, one must have suffered a “legal wrong,” that is, “the right invaded must be a legal right,”522 requiring some resolution of the merits preliminarily. An injury-in-fact was insufficient. A “legal right” could be established in one of two ways. It could be a common-law right, such that if the injury were administered by a private party, one could sue on it;523 or it could be a right created by the Constitution or a statute.524 The statutory right most relied on was the judicial review section of the Administrative Procedure Act, which provided that “[a] person suffering legal wrong because of agency action, or adversely affected or aggrieved by agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute, is entitled to judicial review thereof.”525 Early decisions under this statute interpreted the language as adopting the “legal interest” and “legal wrong” standard then prevailing as constitutional requirements of standing, which generally had the effect of limiting the type of injury cognizable in federal court to economic ones.526

In 1970, however, the Court promulgated a two-pronged standing test: if the litigant (1) has suffered injury-in-fact and if he (2) shows that the interest he seeks to protect is arguably within the zone of interests to be protected or regulated by the statutory guarantee in question, he has standing.527 Of even greater importance was the expansion of the nature of the cognizable injury beyond economic injury to encompass “aesthetic, conservational, and recreational” interests as well.528 “Aesthetic and environmental well-being, like economic well-being, are important ingredients of the quality of life in our society, and the fact that particular environmental interests are shared by the many rather than the few does not make them less deserving of legal protection through the judicial process.”529 Thus, plaintiffs who pleaded that they used the natural resources of the Washington area, that rail freight rates would deter the recycling of used goods, and that their use of natural resources would be disturbed by the adverse environmental impact caused by the nonuse of recyclable goods, had standing as “persons aggrieved” to challenge the rates set. Neither the large numbers of persons allegedly injured nor the indirect and less perceptible harm to the environment was justification to deny standing. The Court granted that the plaintiffs might never be able to establish the “attenuated line of causation” from rate setting to injury, but that was a matter for proof at trial, not for resolution on the pleadings.530

Much debate has occurred in recent years with respect to the validity of “citizen suit” provisions in the environmental laws, especially in light of the Court’s retrenchment in constitutional standing cases. The Court in insisting on injury in fact as well as causation and redressability has curbed access to citizen suits,531 but that Congress may expansively confer substantial degrees of standing through statutory creations of interests remains true.

Footnotes

521
Ass’n of Data Processing Service Org. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 151–152 (1970), citing Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 101 (1968). “But where a dispute is otherwise justiciable, the question whether the litigant is a ‘proper party to request an adjudication of a particular issue,’ [quoting Flast, supra, at 100], is one within the power of Congress to determine.” Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 732 n.3 (1972). [Back to text]
522
Tennessee Electric Power Co. v. TVA, 306 U.S. 118, 137–138 (1939). See also Alabama Power Co. v. Ickes, 302 U.S. 464 (1938); Perkins v. Lukens Steel Co., 310 U.S. 113 (1940). [Back to text]
523
Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 152 (1951) (Justice Frankfurter concurring). This was apparently the point of the definition of “legal right” as “one of property, one arising out of contract, one protected against tortious invasion, or one founded on a statute which confers a privilege.” Tennessee Electric Power Co. v. TVA, 306 U.S. 118, 137–138 (1939). [Back to text]
524
Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 152 (1951) (Justice Frankfurter concurring). The Court approached this concept in two interrelated ways. (1) It might be that a plaintiff had an interest that it was one of the purposes of the statute in question to protect in some degree. Chicago Junction Case, 264 U.S. 258 (1924); Alexander Sprunt & Son v. United States, 281 U.S. 249 (1930); Alton R.R. v. United States, 315 U.S. 15 (1942). Thus, in Hardin v. Kentucky Utilities Co., 390 U.S. 1 (1968), a private utility was held to have standing to contest allegedly illegal competition by TVA on the ground that the statute was meant to give private utilities some protection from certain forms of TVA competition. (2) It might be that a plaintiff was a “person aggrieved” within the terms of a judicial review section of an administrative or regulatory statute. Injury to an economic interest was sufficient to “aggrieve” a litigant. FCC v. Sanders Brothers Radio Station, 309 U.S. 470 (1940); Associated Industries v. Ickes, 134 F.2d 694 (2d Cir. 1943), cert. dismissed as moot, 320 U.S. 707 (1943). [Back to text]
525
5 U.S.C. § 702. See also 47 U.S.C. § 202(b)(6) (FCC); 15 U.S.C. § 77i(a) (SEC); 16 U.S.C. § 825a(b) (FPC). [Back to text]
526
FCC v. Sanders Brothers Radio Station, 309 U.S. 470, 477 (1940); City of Chicago v. Atchison, T. & S.F. Ry. Co., 357 U.S. 77, 83 (1958); Hardin v. Kentucky Utilities Co., 390 U.S. 1, 7 (1968). [Back to text]
527
Ass’n of Data Processing Service Org. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150 (1970); Barlow v. Collins, 397 U.S. 159 (1970). Justices Brennan and White argued that only injury-in-fact should be requisite for standing. Id. at 167. In Clarke v. Securities Industry Ass’n, 479 U.S. 388 (1987), the Court applied a liberalized zone-of-interest test. But see Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 885–889 (1990); Air Courier Conf. v. American Postal Workers Union, 498 U.S. 517 (1991). In applying these standards, the Court, once it determined that the litigant’s interests were “arguably protected” by the statute in question, proceeded to the merits without thereafter pausing to inquire whether in fact the interests asserted were among those protected. Arnold Tours v. Camp, 400 U.S. 45 (1970); Investment Company Institute v. Camp, 401 U.S. 617 (1971); Boston Stock Exchange v. State Tax Comm’n, 429 U.S. 318, 320 n.3 (1977). Almost contemporaneously, the Court also liberalized the ripeness requirement in review of administrative actions. Gardner v. Toilet Goods Ass’n, Inc., 387 U.S. 167 (1967); Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136 (1967). See also National Credit Union Administration v. First National Bank & Trust Co., 522 U.S. 479 (1998), in which the Court found that a bank had standing to challenge an agency ruling expanding the role of employer credit unions to include multi-employer credit unions, despite a statutory limit that any such union could be of groups having a common bond of occupation or association. The Court held that a plaintiff did not have to show it was the congressional purpose to protect its interests. It is sufficient if the interest asserted is “arguably within the zone of interests to be protected . . . by the statute.” Id. at 492 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). But the Court divided 5-to-4 in applying the test. See also Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154 (1997). [Back to text]
528
Ass’n of Data Processing Service Org. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 154 (1970). [Back to text]
529
Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 734 (1972), Moreover, said the Court, once a person establishes that he has standing to seek judicial review of an action because of particularized injury to him, he may argue the public interest as a “representative of the public interest,” as a “private attorney general,” so that he may contest not only the action which injures him but the entire complex of actions of which his injury-inducing action is a part. Id. at 737–738, noting Scripps-Howard Radio v. FCC, 316 U.S. 4 (1942); FCC v. Sanders Brothers Radio Station, 309 U.S. (1940). See also Gladstone Realtors v. Village of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 103 n. (1979); Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 376 n.16 (1982) (noting ability of such party to represent interests of third parties). [Back to text]
530
United States v. SCRAP, 412 U.S. 669, 683–690 (1973). As was noted above, this case has been disparaged by the later Court. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 566–67 (1992); Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 158–160 (1990). [Back to text]
531
See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992); Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871 (1990). But see Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154 (1997) (fact that citizen suit provision of Endangered Species Act is directed at empowering suits to further environmental concerns does not mean that suitor who alleges economic harm from enforcement of Act lacks standing); FEC v. Akins, 524 U.S. 11 (1998) (expansion of standing based on denial of access to information). [Back to text]