Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 112 S. Ct. 2130; 119 L. Ed. 2d 351 (1992).

Facts

Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 divides responsibilities regarding the protection of endangered species between the Secretary of the Interior (Manuel Lujan, D) and the Secretary of Commerce. The section requires each federal agency to consult with the appropriate Secretary to ensure that any action funded by the agency is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence or habitat of any endangered or threatened species. Both Secretaries initially promulgated a joint regulation extending the section’s coverage to include actions taken in foreign nations; however, a subsequent joint rule limited the section’s scope to the United States and the high seas.

The Defenders of Wildlife (P) and other organizations brought a lawsuit in federal district court seeking a declaratory judgment that the new regulation erred regarding the geographic scope of section 7(a)(2), and an injunction requiring Lujan to promulgate a new rule restoring his earlier interpretation that extended the section’s coverage to include actions taken abroad. The district court dismissed the suit for lack of standing and the court of appeals reversed. On remand, on cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court denied Lujan’s motion renewing his objection to standing, and granted the plaintiff’s motion ordering Lujan to publish a new rule. The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed and the U.S. Supreme Court granted cert.

Issues

  1. What must a party invoking federal jurisdiction establish in order to show standing?
  2. What must a party show in order to survive a motion for summary judgment for lack of standing?
  3. If a plaintiff is not an object of government action, what must a party show in order to show standing?
  4. Can Congress pass legislation that allows for the creation of citizen suits that confer standing upon citizens who would not be able to allege an injury in fact?

Holding and Rule (Scalia)

  1. In order to establish standing, a party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing, among other things, that they have suffered an injury in fact; i.e., a concrete and particularized, actual or imminent invasion of a legally-protected interest.
  2. To survive a motion for summary judgment for lack of standing, a party must set forth by affidavit or other evidence specific facts to support its claim.
  3. In addition to the above, in order to show standing, a party that is not an object of government action must show facts that the choices made by the independent actors not before the courts have been or will be made in such a manner as to produce causation and permit redressability of injury.
  4. No. Congress cannot pass legislation that allows for the creation of citizen suits that confer standing upon citizens who would not be able to allege an injury in fact.

The plaintiffs did not demonstrate that they suffered an injury in fact. Assuming that they established that funded activities abroad threaten certain species, they failed to show that one or more of their members would thereby be directly affected apart from the members’ special interest in the subject. Affidavits of members claiming an intent to revisit project sites at some indefinite future time, at which time they will presumably be denied the opportunity to observe endangered animals, do not suffice, for they do not demonstrate an “imminent” injury.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that any person using any part of a contiguous ecosystem adversely affected by a funded activity has standing even if the activity is located far away from the area of their use.

The Court of Appeals erred in holding that the Defenders of Wildlife had standing on the ground that the statute’s citizen suit provision confers on all persons the right to challenge the defendant’s failure to follow the proper procedure, notwithstanding plaintiff’s inability to allege any concrete injury arising from that failure.

A party claiming only a general grievance about government, unconnected with a threatened interest of its own, does not state an Article III case or controversy. Vindicating the public interest is the function of the Congress and Chief Executive. To allow that interest to be converted into an individual right by statute would authorize Congress to transfer from the President to the courts the Chief Executive’s most important constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

Disposition

Reversed and remanded.

See Allen v. Wright for a constitutional law case brief in which the Supreme Court held that a plaintiff must allege an injury fairly traceable to the defendant’s allegedly unlawful conduct to have standing to bring a lawsuit.


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