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Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife

Matthew Steinberg

InstructorMatthew Steinberg

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Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife

Citation. 504 U.S. 555, 112 S. Ct. 2130, 119 L. Ed. 2d 351,1992 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs brought suit requesting an injunction requiring the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to reinstate an initial interpretation of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). The initial interpretation applied the Act to actions taken in foreign nations. The Secretary claimed that the Plaintiffs lacked standing.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Congress cannot create standing when an injury in fact, a causal connection and redressability are not present.


The ESA was promulgated to protect endangered and threatened animals. Under the authority of the ESA, the Secretary declared that the ESA applied to actions outside of the United States. Upon further review, the Secretary reinterpreted the ESA to be applicable to actions only within the United States or the high seas. The Plaintiffs, organizations dedicated to wildlife conservation, filed an action against the Secretary seeking an injunction requiring the Secretary to reinstate the initial interpretation of the ESA. The Secretary moved for summary judgment due to a lack of standing and the Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment on the merits. The District Court denied the Secretary’s motion and affirmed the Plaintiffs motion. The Court of Appeals Affirmed the District Court.


Plaintiffs have standing to challenge the Secretary’s interpretation of the ESA under either traditional rules of standing or the individual cause of action created within the ESA?


No. Judgment reversed.
The case and controversy requirement of Article III creates three minimal elements in order to have standing. The plaintiff must have suffered (i) an “injury in fact”; (ii) there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of; and (iii) it must be likely that this injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.
In this case, the Plaintiffs failed to establish injury in fact or redressability. Because of the limited effect of the ESA, it is too speculative to claim that not enforcing an injunction on the Secretary would result in an injury in fact to any of the Plaintiffs. Likewise, it is too speculative to assume that any redress by the courts would have substantial impact on threatened species outside of the United States.
The Plaintiff’s claim that they suffered a “procedural injury” established by a citizen-suit provision within the ESA is also without merit. To permit standing based on this Congressional Act would usurp the power of the Executive to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”


The Plaintiffs have raised genuine issues of fact as to both injury and redressability. Additionally, the court’s enforcement of Congressional Acts through the citizen-suit provision do not violate separation of powers
Concurrence. Congress does have the power to create standing where it had not existed before, but must identify the injury it seeks to vindicate and relate that injury to those bringing suit.


Congress’s citizen-suit provision in the ESA was unconstitutional because it created a law where federal courts would be forced to recognize suits where no real world harm had occurred.

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