Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992)
Another Supreme Court case law summary by Liz Batres... this time, on Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, an important case not only for Endangered Species Act followers, but also more broadly to anyone addressing the standing requirement to invoking federal jurisdiction.
Photo of the nile crocodile, at issue in Lujan, available online from The Nature Conservancy
For the rest of this Lujan summary...
Section 7 of the ESA requires each federal agency to consult with the Secretary to insure that the agency’s action “is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of any protected species. 504 U.S. at 558. The Secretary promulgated a regulation stating that the consultation duty applies “only for actions taken in the United States or on the high seas.” Id. at 559. Subsequently, environmental groups sought a declaratory judgment that the regulation had an improperly narrow geographic scope. Id. (stating that the groups also sought to enjoin the Secretary to promulgate a regulation imposing the consultation duty “to actions taken in foreign nations”). Reviewing the three standing elements of injury in fact, causation, and redressability, six Justices agreed that respondents failed to demonstrate injury in fact. Id. at 560-63; cf. id. at 568 (four Justices concluding that Respondents also failed to show redressability).
In support of the injury element, Respondents argued “that the lack of consultation with respect to certain funded activities abroad increase[es] the rate of extinction of endangered and threatened species.” Id. at 562 (alteration in original) (internal quotation omitted). The majority first conceded that “the desire to use or observe an animal species, even for purely aesthetic purposes, is undeniably a cognizable interest for purposes of standing.” Id. at 562-63. However, to survive a summary judgment motion, respondents had to offer evidence “that one or more of respondents’ members would thereby be directly affected apart from their special interest in th[e] subject.” Id. at 563 (alteration in original) (internal quotations omitted). Here, respondents presented affidavits of its two members, stating that one of them:
traveled to Egypt in 1986 and “observed the traditional habitat of the endangered nile crocodile there and intend[s] to do so again” . . . and that she “will suffer harm in fact as the result of [the] American . . . role . . . in overseeing the rehabilitation of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile . . . and [in] develop[ing] . . . Egypt’s . . . Master Water Plan.
Id. (first omission added). The second member stated that when she traveled to Sri Lanka, she observed the habitat of the endangered elephant and leopard at a site where a federal agency subsequently began operating a project. Id. (claiming that the project threatened the species habitat and “harmed her because she intend[s] to return to Sri Lanka in the future and hope[s] to be more fortunate in spotting at least the endangered elephant and leopard” (internal quotation omitted)).
The Court found that:
the affiants’ profession of an “inten[t]” to return to the places they had visited before-where they will presumably, this time, be deprived of the opportunity to observe animals of the endangered species- is simply not enough. Such “some day” intentions-without any description of concrete plans, or indeed even any specification of when the some day will be-do not support a finding of the “actual or imminent” injury that our cases require.
Id. at 564.
Moreover, the Court rejected Respondent’s other “novel standing theories.” Id. at 565-66 (rejecting the “ecosystem nexus” theory where any person who uses any part of an ecosystem threatened by agency’s activity has standing, the “animal nexus” theory where “anyone who has an interest in studying or seeing the endangered animals anywhere on the globe has standing, and the “vocational nexus,” where “anyone with a professional interest in such animals can sue”).
Finally, the Court analyzed whether the “citizen-suit” provision of the ESA was a source of standing. That provision states, in relevant part, that any person may sue to enjoin any agency that is allegedly violating any part of the ESA. Id. at 571-72. The Eighth Circuit “held that because [section 7] requires interagency consultation, the citizen-suit provision creates a ‘procedural righ[t]’ to consultation in all ‘persons,’” regardless of the plaintiff’s “inability to allege any discrete injury” Id. at 572. The Court, however, strongly rejected this view, reiterating:
that a plaintiff raising only a generally available grievance about government-claiming only harm to his and every citizen’s interest in proper application of the Constitution and laws, and seeking relief that no more directly and tangibly benefits him than it does the public at large-does not state an Article III case or controversy.
Id. at 573-74.
In sum, Lujan held that the environmental groups lacked standing, and reversed the order denying the Secretary’s motion for summary judgment.
- Text of the case from Cornell Law.
- Linda Greenhouse, Court Limits Legal Standing in Suits, N.Y. Times (June 13, 1992).
- Cass. R. Sunstein, What’s Standing After Lujan? Of Citizen Suits, “Injuries,” and Article III., 91 MICH. L. REV. 163 (1992).