« JOTWELL: Levy on Grove on judicial independence | Main | SCOTUS Symposium: Answering a longstanding question »

Monday, June 05, 2017

SCOTUS Symposium: More on standing, intervenors, and Laroe Estates

I covered Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates for SCOTUSBlog and my recap is here. Since that forum is intended to be descriptive, this is my normative take.

The Court leaves in place what Andrew-Aaron Bruhl (who filed an amicus brief in the case) calls the one good plaintiff rule--so long as one plaintiff has standing, other plaintiffs (including intervenor-plaintiffs) can go along for the ride. Town of Chester limits that to plaintiffs and intervenors who assert identical claims for identical relief. The problem (as Aaron argued in an email and I agree) is that all relief is plaintiff-specific--a remedy for A is different than a remedy for B, even if they both want the same thing. So either the Court's own rule is universal or it is calling on lower courts to draw an impossible distinction in practice.

With respect to damages in this case, the Court distinguished two remedies: The first is Laroe asking for damages directly from the Town for the value of its property interest, which would require standing. The second is Laroe joining Sherman to ask for a single fund of money from the Town, after which Laroe and Sherman would fight over their portions of that fund (which would not). The latter theory is that Laroe and Sherman seek the same thing from Chester--$ 6 million, the value of the regulatory taking of property in which they both have an interest; thus, only one need have standing to get the entire pool from the Town. Who between Laroe and Sherman owns how much of that $ 6 million is between them.

The "one good plaintiff" rule arises most often in actions challenging the constitutionality of a law and seeking injunctive relief; courts do a standing inquiry for one plaintiff, then stop. But the plaintiff-specificity of the remedy remains, which is why Aaron argues everyone must have standing. Enjoining enforcement of a law so A can engage in some conduct (attend an integrated school, hold a rally, get married, not buy health insurance) is a different remedy from enjoining enforcement of a law so B can engage in the "same" conduct himself. This decision does nothing to end that practice. Courts generally understand this type of injunction as the equivalent of a single pie for each party to put to its own use, rather than a single order requiring something from the defendant to each plaintiff. (I am interested in this point (and in Aaron's article) because it ties into questions about the scope of judgments, the permissibility of universal/nationwide injunctions, and the process of constitutional litigation).

Ironically, Justice Gorsuch's testy exchange with respondent's counsel (this was the second argument on Gorsuch's first day on the bench) surrounded discussion of this point. Asked by Gorsuch to identify when an intervenor seeks different equitable relief from the plaintiff, counsel tried to explain that it depends on the scope of the injunction, implicitly invoking one-good-plaintiff cases; Gorsuch became increasingly frustrated by counsel's refusal to answer his non-"trick" question. But Gorsuch did not seem to recognize the real problem--that an injunction should never be so broad that a person can benefit from it as a judgment without having standing.*

[*] For purposes of this point, I bracket my Fletcherian insistence that standing is merits. [Update: On this tangent, Aaron responds with a great point: "One good plaintiff" exists because standing is not merits. Courts never would have developed a doctrine that says "so long as one plaintiff has a successful claim on the merits, we will grant relief to other plaintiffs even though they don't have successful claims on the merits." But because it is a jurisdictional threshold, courts have been ironically lenient on it (as long as someone can pass the heightened threshold).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 5, 2017 at 02:23 PM in 2016-17 End of Term, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment