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U.S. Const. art. III limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to actual cases or controversies between proper litigants. To establish constitutional standing, plaintiffs must have suffered or be imminently threatened with a concrete and particularized injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant and likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.
The Immigration and Nationality Act creates a temporary foreign worker visa program that allows employers to hire foreign workers when there are not enough qualified and available American workers to fill open jobs. The Department of Labor is tasked with administering the visa program to protect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers. In August 2011, the Department updated the special procedures that establish the minimum wages and working conditions employers must offer U.S. sheepherders, goatherders, and open-range (cattle) herders before hiring foreign herders. The plaintiffs in this action are U.S. workers experienced in herding. Although the plaintiffs would prefer to work as herders, they have been forced out of the industry by the substandard wages and working conditions they attribute to the easy availability of foreign herders. The plaintiffs paint a portrait of agency capture, suggesting the Department has, without giving herders or their representatives an opportunity to be heard, administered the temporary worker visa program in a way that gives herding operations access to inexpensive foreign labor without protecting U.S. workers. The plaintiffs, all of whom had left their herding jobs sometime prior to August 2011, filed this action alleging the Department of Labor violated the Administrative Procedure Act by issuing the special procedures without notice and comment. The Mountain Plains Agricultural Services and the Western Range Association—two groups representing employers in the herding industry—intervened on the side of the government. The intervenors filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and all the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment in the district court. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, holding the plaintiffs lacked Article III and prudential standing.
Did the district court err in dismissing the workers' action on the ground that they lacked U.S. Const. art. III standing?
The court held that the district court erred in dismissing the workers' action on the ground that they lacked U.S. Const. art. III standing because the workers had standing to challenge the failure of the Department of Labor to engage in the notice and comment procedures required by the Administrative Procedure Act. An individual in the labor market for open-range herding jobs would have standing to challenge Department rules that led to an increased supply of labor, and thus competition, in that market. Under the competitor standing doctrine, the Training and Employment Guidance Letters affected the concrete interests of individuals seeking work as herders because it lowered wages and worsened working conditions. The workers established they were seeking work as herders and would accept such work if provided the wages and working conditions they contend the law required.