Standing - Civil Procedure

Harvard Law Review, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Standing - Civil Procedure


Few areas of doctrine in the past fifty years have experienced greater transformation, implicated a wider range of cases, and engendered more confusion than standing. (1) In its 1970 decision Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp, (2) the Supreme Court moved away from the "legal interest" test (3) and established that standing was an inquiry separate from the merits of the claim. (4) In the decades that followed, the Court's standing doctrine experienced significant change (5) and sustained scholarly criticism, (6) but also appeared to have stabilized as a two-sided inquiry of constitutional and prudential standing. (7) Constitutional standing requirements derive from Article III's limitation of the judicial power to resolve cases and controversies, (8) while prudential standing has involved self-imposed judicial considerations beyond that constitutional minimum.

Last Term, in Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., (10) the Supreme Court penned the latest chapter on standing--upending the doctrine yet again. A few details are (relatively) clear in isolation: First, the "zone of interests" test and the bar on "generalized grievances" are no longer part of prudential standing. Second, the Lexmark inquiry --combining the zone of interests and proximate causation--does not implicate courts' subject matter jurisdiction but instead goes to the merits of a plaintiff's statutory claim for relief. What is perhaps less apparent is that these doctrinal reworkings are part of larger trends in the Court's cases that limit federal courts' ability to avoid deciding cases falling within their jurisdiction: First, as a general matter, the Court appears increasingly uncomfortable with the discretion afforded by prudential justiciability doctrines. Second, it has exerted considerable effort in recent years to limit and bring greater discipline to jurisdictional rulings. Lexmark embodies these two broader trends, signaling the end of prudential standing and turning the easily abused zone of interests test into a merits question.

The Lexmark decision arose out of "sprawling litigation" between laser printer manufacturer Lexmark International, Inc. and component supplier Static Control Components, Inc. (11) Lexmark not only manufactures and sells laser printers, it also sells toner cartridges--the only toner cartridges Lexmark printers are designed to accept. (12) Other businesses refurbish used Lexmark toner cartridges and sell them in competition with Lexmark. (13) In an effort to dry up the remanufacturing market, Lexmark introduced a "Prebate" program through which customers receive a discount on new toner cartridges in exchange for agreeing to return used cartridges directly to Lexmark. (14) The terms of the Prebate program were communicated to consumers through notices printed on the toner-cartridge boxes--so-called "shrinkwrap licensing"--and enforced through the use of an embedded microchip that would disable an empty cartridge until it was replaced by Lexmark. (15)

Static Control neither manufactures nor remanufactures toner cartridges. Instead, it is the leading supplier of components "necessary to remanufacture Lexmark cartridges" (16)--including toner, replacement parts, and a microchip that mimics Lexmark's. (17) In 2002, Lexmark sued Static Control, alleging that Static Control's microchips violated the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Static Control counterclaimed, alleging, among other things, violations of the Lanham Act's (18) prohibition on false advertising. (19) Static Control's Lanham Act claim alleged two types of objectionable conduct by Lexmark: First, it asserted that Lexmark misled consumers to believe they were legally bound by the Prebate terms. (20) Second, it claimed that Lexmark sent letters to most of the toner cartridge manufacturers, falsely advising them that it was illegal to sell refurbished Prebate cartridges and to use Static Control's products to refurbish those cartridges. …

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