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Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife

    Brief Fact Summary. The Petitioner, Defenders of Wildlife (Petitioner), an organization dedicated to wildlife conservation, sued the Defendant, the Secretary of Interior (the Secretary), (Defendant) for promulgating a rule that would allegedly increase the rate of extinction of endangered wildlife.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order to have standing to sue, a party must show that it has or will suffer actual or imminent injuries.

    Facts. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (the Act) was enacted to protect endangered or threatened species and to prevent the destruction of their natural habitats. The Secretary is empowered to promulgate rules pursuant to the Act. In 1986, Defendant promulgated a new rule that worked to limit the scope of the Act to actions taken in the United States or on the high seas. Respondents, an organization dedicated to wildlife conservation, filed an action seeking a declaratory judgment that the new rule was based on incorrect interpretation of the Act and in error insofar as it set a limit on geographic scope of the Act. Further, Respondents argued that they had been injured and therefore had standing, because they had observed the endangered animals in the past, intended to do so again in the future and that the rule would increase the rate of extinction of the animals.

    Issue. Did Respondents have standing to sue?

    Held. No.
    Respondent’s claim constitutes a generalized grievance. Even if the Court were to assume agency-funded projects threatened the wildlife at issue, the fact that Respondents “had visited” the habitats of animals and had “some day” intentions of going back to see them proves nothing. Without asserting concrete plans to return to see the animals, Respondents fail to show the “actual or imminent” injury the Court requires to have standing to sue.
    Moreover, as to redressability, Respondent fails because the agencies funding the projects, which were capable of redressing the injury, would not have been bound by a suit against the Secretary found in Respondent’s favor.

    Dissent. Justice Harry Blackmun stated that the requirement of showing “concrete plans” is an empty formula.
    Concurrence. Justice Anthony Kennedy (J. Kennedy) stated that while it may seem trivial to require Respondents to acquire airline tickets or announce a day certain when they will return to the site; this is not a case in which it is reasonable to assume they will return. I am not willing to foreclose the theory upon which Respondents base their claim for standing, however.
    Justice John Paul Stevens stated that a person, who has visited the critical habitat of an endangered species, has professional interest in preserving the species and thus, has standing. I concur in the judgment, however.

    Discussion. The fact that Respondents were not themselves the object of the government’s action or inaction alleged to have caused the injury is noteworthy. In such cases, standing is substantially more difficult to establish.


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