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Standing of Association to Sue

An organization has standing to sue if it meets U.S. Const. art. III’s standing requirements.  An organization can establish standing to bring suit under two theories.  The first is an organizational theory which enables an organization to bring suit on its own behalf.  The second is a representational theory which allows an organization to sue on behalf of its members.[i]

The U.S. Supreme Court has set out three requirements for an associational plaintiff to have standing under U.S. Const. art. III to sue on behalf of its members: (1) its members must have standing to sue on their own; (2) the interests he/she seeks to protect must be germane to the organization’s purpose; and (3) neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested may require the participation of individual members in the lawsuit.[ii]  Such associational standing requires that at least some members would have standing to sue in their own right.  The first two factors are required by the Constitution and the third is a judicially self imposed limit on the exercise of federal jurisdiction that Congress may remove by statute.

Organizations are entitled to sue on their own behalf for injuries they have sustained.  To do so, the organization must meet the same standing test that applies to individuals by showing actual or threatened injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the alleged illegal action and likely to be redressed by a favorable court decision.[iii]  An organizational plaintiff may have standing to sue on its own behalf to vindicate whatever rights and immunities the association itself may enjoy or, under certain conditions, to sue on behalf of its members to assert members’ individual rights.  In those cases where an organization is suing on its own behalf, it must establish concrete and demonstrable injury to the organization’s activities resulting in a subsequent drain on the organization’s resources and not make just a broad claim that the organization’s social interests have been setback.  Indeed, the organization must allege defined and actual damage to organization’s interests by the challenged action .[iv]

In cases where the fact and extent of injury requires individualized proof in order to support the cause of action such as a suit for damages for financial injury,  associations do not have a standing.  Therefore, an association has standing to seek a declaration, injunction, or some other form of prospective relief on behalf of its members and does not enjoy standing to seek damages for monetary injuries peculiar to individual members.

Moreover, if the outcome of the litigation creates serious conflicts of interest, associational standing is inappropriate.  A serious conflict of interest arises in the following circumstances: (i) an association seeks standing to directly sue some of its own members,(ii) where the suit, if successful, would be directly detrimental to the interests of some of its members.  In addition, if a successful suit would harm some member’s interests, the litigation is not germane to the association’s purposes.

[i] Goldstein v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 278 F. Supp. 2d 766 (E.D. Va. 2003)

[ii] N.J. Prot. & Advocacy, Inc. v. Davy, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22749 (D.N.J. Sept. 30, 2005)

[iii] Irish Lesbian & Gay Org. v. Giuliani, 143 F.3d 638 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1998)

[iv] Ctr. for Law & Educ. v. United States Dep’t of Educ., 315 F. Supp. 2d 15 (D.D.C. 2004)

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