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Law School Case Brief

Summers v. Earth Island Inst. - 555 U.S. 488, 129 S. Ct. 1142 (2009)


The doctrine of standing is one of several doctrines that reflect the fundamental "Cases" and "Controversies" limitation in U.S. Const. art. III. It requires federal courts to satisfy themselves that plaintiff has alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to warrant his invocation of federal court jurisdiction. He bears the burden of showing that he has standing for each type of relief sought. To seek injunctive relief, plaintiff must show that he is under threat of suffering "injury in fact" that is concrete and particularized; the threat must be actual and imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; it must be fairly traceable to the challenged action of defendant; and it must be likely that a favorable judicial decision will prevent or redress the injury. This requirement assures that there is a real need to exercise the power of judicial review in order to protect the interests of the complaining party. Where that need does not exist, allowing courts to oversee legislative or executive action would significantly alter the allocation of power away from a democratic form of government.


After the U.S. Forest Service approved the Burnt Ridge Project, a salvage sale of timber on 238 acres of fire-damaged federal land, respondent environmental groups filed suit to enjoin the Service from applying its regulations exempting such small sales from the notice, comment, and appeal process it used for more significant land management decisions, and to challenge other regulations that did not apply to Burnt Ridge. The district court granted a preliminary injunction against the sale. The circuit court affirmed the determination that the regulations applicable to Burnt Ridge were contrary to law but held that challenges to other regulations not at issue in that project were not ripe for adjudication. The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the circuit court’s judgment with regard to the nationwide injunction against 36 C.F.R. §§ 215.4(a), 215.12(f), but affirmed judgment as to the finding that challenges the remaining regulations.


Did respondent environmental groups have the standing to challenge the regulations that did not apply to the Burnt Ridge project absent a live dispute over a concrete application of those regulations?




In limiting the judicial power to "Cases" and "Controversies," Article III restricted it to redressing or preventing actual or imminently threatened injury to persons caused by violation of law. The standing doctrine reflected that fundamental limitation, requiring that plaintiff alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy' as to warrant his invocation of federal court jurisdiction. Here, respondent environmental groups could demonstrate standing only if application of the regulations would affect them in such a manner.

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