Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife

RESPONDENT:Defenders of Wildlife
LOCATION: Defenders of Wildlife

DOCKET NO.: 90-1424
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 504 US 555 (1992)
ARGUED: Dec 03, 1991
DECIDED: Jun 12, 1992

Brian B. O’Neill – on behalf of the Respondents
Edwin S. Kneedler – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (S7(a)(2)) required federal agencies to consult with the Secretary of the Interior to ensure that any authorized actions did not jeopardize endangered or threatened species or critically destroy natural habitats. A 1986 amendment to the act limited it scope to actions in the United States or on the high seas. Defenders of Wildlife and other organizations dedicated to wildlife conservation filed an action seeking a declaratory judgment that the new amendment erred by providing for a geographic limit on the original law.


Do the respondents have standing to sue?

Media for Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 03, 1991 in Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 12, 1992 in Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

The first case is Lujan versus Defenders of Wildlife, No. 90-1424.

That case is here on petition for writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act gives certain responsibilities for protecting endangered species to the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce, and it requires other federal agencies to consult with the relevant secretary to ensure that an action they fund is not likely to jeopardize a species or a habitat.

The Secretaries have issued a joint regulation stating that this consultation requirement does not extend to agency-funded actions in foreign countries.

Respondents, who are wildlife conservation and other environmental organizations, filed suit against the Secretary of the Interior asking the District Court to declare that the consultation requirement does apply to actions in foreign countries, and to order the Secretary to promulgate a revised regulation.

The Secretary filed a motion to dismiss claiming that respondents lack standing.

The District Court granted that motion but the Court of Appeals reversed.

When the case was remanded, the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment.

The District Court denied the Secretary’s, which had renewed his standing objection, and granted respondent’s motion ordering the Secretary to publish a new rule.

This time, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

We need reach only the secretary’s claim that respondents lack standing.

As plaintiffs, respondents have the burden of establishing the court’s jurisdiction.

One element of which is that they possess Article III standing to sue.

Standing requires that the plaintiff had suffered an injury in fact, a term of art which we have defined as the actual or imminent invasion of a concrete and particularized interest of the plaintiffs.

Standing also requires what is called redressibility, that is the ability of the court to provide some relief for the injury in fact.

To survive the Secretary’s summary judgment therefore, respondents have to establish through affidavits or otherwise specific facts showing first, that they were injured in fact by the lack of consultation and second, that the courts ordering the Secretary to revise his regulation would remedy that injury.

Respondents first attempted to show injury through the affidavits of two of their members to the effect that a United States agency is providing part of the funding for two foreign projects that are jeopardizing certain endangered animals, and that these members had visited those project areas previously and intended to do so again at some time in the indefinite future.

At which point, they would be denied the ability to observe the animals.

We do not think this suffices to show an injury in fact.

The inability to observe an animal can create an injury in fact.

That inability, however, must be imminent and the member’s lack of firm plans to return to the sites defeats their claim for standing.

We also reject respondents’ novel nexus injury theories under which anyone who either uses the same ecosystem as a threatened animal likes to observe animals or has a professional interest in them may sue without having to make any further showing.

We do not think that a mere interest in a type of animal without more can create an injury in fact.

The Court of Appeals also found that respondents had suffered a procedural injury by which it meant that the Endangered Species Act grants to all citizens a right to have the agencies consult with the Secretary and that each citizen may sue to enforce that right even if he has no further interest in the matter.

We hold that a procedural injury is not an injury in fact under Article III and the person may seek to enforce procedural rights only to the extent they safeguard a threatened concrete injury of his own.

Vindicating the public interest is the function of the Legislative and Executive Branches to allow the public interest to be converted into an actionable individual right by a statute permitting all citizens to sue regardless of whether they suffered any separate concrete injury would allow Congress to transfer to the courts the President’s constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

A portion of the opinion joined by only four justices also finds that the plaintiffs failed to satisfy the redressibility requirement.

The judgment is reversed and the case remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment in which Justice Souter has joined; Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice O’Connor has joined.