Before Bringing a Case in Court You Need to Have Standing: Legal Requirements to Bringing a Lawsuit
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
This post should not be construed as legal advice.
I’ve discussed “standing” in earlier posts as a requirement to bring any lawsuit. A recent decision by the Supreme Court of Idaho offers an excellent opportunity to highlight standing and challenging zoning decisions based on a revised county comprehensive plan.
In Coalition for Agriculture’s Future v. Canyon County, the Coalition had not alleged a specific injury that would give the Coalition standing. In this case, the Coalition had only alleged similar claims as all county residents would have. The Coalition members would need to allege specific claims different from that of the general population in order to have standing.
Canyon County updated its comprehensive plan for zoning in 2011 but forgot to include an agricultural zoning component and a future land use map. Shortly after approving the comprehensive plan, the county amended the plan to include an agricultural component but never included a future land use map. The Coalition challenged all land use and zoning decisions based on this unapproved future land use map. The Idaho Supreme Court ruled the Coalition lacked standing to bring the case.
So let’s examine more closely what standing is: a requirement to ensure that courts only hear legal challenges from the correct parties. For example, you and your neighbor are having a property line dispute. You and your neighbor would have standing in any dispute involving the property line, but a property owner a mile away would not have standing in a property line dispute between you and your neighbor. To demonstrate standing a party needs to show:
The causation relationship between the injury and the action of the defendant; and
The likelihood that the injury can be solved by a favorable decision and is not merely speculative.
In Canyon County, the state supreme court held that the Coalition had failed to demonstrate an injury in fact. Here the Coalition had only alleged that the county had failed to comply with state law in adopting the revised comprehensive plan. The Coalition made no allegations that a zoning decision would be different if the County had complied with state law. The Coalition members had not alleged any interest in real property had been impacted by the revised comprehensive plan or a zoning change. The court saw the allegations the Coalition made to be no different than the rest of the county’s citizens, and this was not enough to confer standing on the Coalition.
The Coalition did have one member who argued the revised comprehensive plan had impacted her property. But the member did not specify which zoning change had affected her property. According to the court, the member should have pursued judicial review of that zoning decision and rather than challenging the revised comprehensive plan in this manner.
Because the Coalition had not established a specific injury-in-fact, the Idaho Supreme Court agreed with the district court to dismiss the Coalition’s lawsuit for lack of standing.
How could this case have been different? The Coalition potentially only needed to show how its members had been affected by the revised comprehensive plan and or a zoning change based on the revised comprehensive plan. The Coalition could have demonstrated how a zoning decision would have come out differently if the state law had been followed, and how it would have come out differently with the prior comprehensive plan. These slight changes might have conferred standing on the Coalition.
Standing is not always considered before pursuing a legal action. Parties may feel wronged because of a decision, but ultimately the individual will need to meet the requirements of standing to continue the legal proceedings.
Coalition for Agriculture’s Future v. Canyon County, No. 42756, 2016 WL 1133369 (Idaho 2016).