Summary of Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc. (2000)
Relevant Facts: PL’s file a citizen suit against DF under Clean Water Act, charging DF with numerous mercury limits in its water permit. Group members lived near water and filed affidavits to that effect.
DF: PL lacked standing b/c PL organizations failed to show that any of their group members had sustained or faced any injury in fact.
District court originally held for PL’s and fined DF’s over $400K in damages.
Issue: Under constitutional law, does an environmental group, with some of its members living in the affected area, have standing to sue as a group the DF environmental services group?
Holding: Yes. Civil penalties sought by FOE carried with them a deterrent effect that made it likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the penalties would redress FOE’s injuries by abating current violations and preventing future ones.
Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: The court looked to PL’s claim to see if it had merit as to standing, and to the sworn affidavits. They show genuine injury to the PL as they document injury in fact. This Court in the past has held that environmental PL’s adequately allege injury in fact when they aver that they use the affected area and are persons “for whom the aesthetic and recreational values of the area will be lessened” by the challenged activity.
As to redressability, citizen PL’s, unlike DF’s claim, are entitled to seek civil penalties; like DF’s argument, PL must establish each individual ground for seeking damages. Here, seeking penalties under the Clean Water Act would serve as a deterrent and possibly could promote immediate compliance by DF. Civil penalties can also fit the definition of redress; they can stop the adverse party from acting in its previous manner, and provide redress citizens who are hurt or threatened to that effect.
Rule: Relevant showing for purposes of Article III standing is not injury to the environment, but injury to the person.
Important Dicta: N/A
Dissenting: (Justices Scalia & Thomas): They thought the affidavits were vague as to injury in fact; then the majority marries private wrong with public remedy that violates traditional federal standing. The dissenters also suggest that mootness requirements are now lessened (turned things into a mere pleading requirement).