Academic journal article Jones Law Review

A Policy Decision in the High Court: How Global Warming Eroded the Standing Requirement: Massachusetts V. EPA

Academic journal article Jones Law Review

A Policy Decision in the High Court: How Global Warming Eroded the Standing Requirement: Massachusetts V. EPA

Article excerpt


A litigant must be properly situated to be entitled to a judicial determination based on the merits of his claim. To have standing, the litigant must demonstrate an actual or imminent concrete and particularized injury that is traceable to the defendant's actions and that a favorable decision will likely redress that injury. (1) In Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had standing to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2) Massachusetts alleged that the EPA was not enforcing the Clean Air Act (3) (CAA) with respect to regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from new cars and light trucks. (4) Massachusetts could not invoke federal jurisdiction using traditional standing requirements. The Court's holding modified traditional standing requirements and allowed Massachusetts to proceed with its claim. This decision relaxed standing requirements for state litigants, which could open the floodgates of litigation.

The Court reached an incorrect result in Massachusetts. An analysis using traditional standing requirements shows that the injury to Massachusetts' coast is hypothetical, not certainly impending. Furthermore, Massachusetts cannot directly trace this hypothetical injury to the EPA's non-enforcement of the CAA. Finally, a judgment in favor of Massachusetts will not redress the injury. The Court should have held that the Commonwealth did not have standing to sue the EPA. Instead, the Court modified traditional standing requirements and found that states have a quasisovereign interest in protecting their land that grants them a special solicitude for purposes of invoking federal jurisdiction. (5) This holding relaxed standing requirements for states attempting to protect quasi-sovereign interests.

The first section of this paper discusses the evolution of traditional standing requirements. The second section recites the facts of the case, the procedural posture, and the Court's holding and reasoning. The third section analyzes: (1) the injury-in-fact requirement of standing and the hypothetical nature of the injury in Massachusetts; (2) the causation requirement of standing (traceability) and the failure of the Commonwealth to prove that the inaction of the EPA contributed to global warming; (3) the redressability requirement of standing and how the decision of the Court will not save the coast of Massachusetts; and (4) the relaxed standing requirements announced in this case and the potential impact on future litigation. The final section is a summary of the issues and a conclusion.


The Evolution of the Standing Requirement

Traditional standing requirements focus on the relationship between the litigant and the advancement of the claim. Essentially, standing asks whether a litigant has the right for a court to decide the merits of his or her case. (6) Initially, a plaintiff's right to access federal courts depended on the substantive law. (7) Federal courts would only hear a claim if a statute or common law authorized the plaintiff's cause of action. (8)

The emergence and proliferation of state regulatory and administrative agencies complicated the issue of standing. (9) Initially, a plaintiff only had standing to sue an agency if the common law granted a cause of action against a private party. (10) Therefore, litigants could sue an agency in property, contract, or tort under principles of the common law. (11) If, however, the action of the agency was unsupported by common law the plaintiff had no standing to sue. (12)

Standing based on common law rights favored those being regulated rather than the intended beneficiaries of the regulation. (13) For example, if an agency enacted a rule requiring a manufacturer to take safety precautions, the manufacturer could claim that the regulation violated his property rights. …

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