Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife
504 U.S. 555 (1992)

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No. 90-1424. Argued December 3, 1991-Decided June 12, 1992

Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 divides responsibilities regarding the protection of endangered species between petitioner Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce, and requires each federal agency to consult with the relevant Secretary to ensure that any action funded by the agency is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence or habitat of any endangered or threatened species. Both Secretaries initially promulgated a joint regulation extending § 7(a)(2)'s coverage to actions taken in foreign nations, but a subsequent joint rule limited the section's geographic scope to the United States and the high seas. Respondents, wildlife conservation and other environmental organizations, filed an action in the District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the new regulation erred as to § 7(a)(2)'s geographic scope and an injunction requiring the Secretary of the Interior to promulgate a new rule restoring his initial interpretation. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's dismissal of the suit for lack of standing. Upon remand, on cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court denied the Secretary's motion, which renewed his objection to standing, and granted respondents' motion, ordering the Secretary to publish a new rule. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded. 911 F.2d 117, reversed and remanded.

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part III-B, concluding that respondents lack standing to seek judicial review of the rule. Pp. 559-567,571-578.

(a) As the parties invoking federal jurisdiction, respondents bear the burden of showing standing by establishing, inter alia, that they have suffered an injury in fact, i. e., a concrete and particularized, actual or imminent invasion of a legally protected interest. To survive a summary judgment motion, they must set forth by affidavit or other evidence specific facts to support their claim. Standing is particularly difficult to show here, since third parties, rather than respondents, are the object of the Government action or inaction to which respondents object. Pp. 559-562.



(b) Respondents did not demonstrate that they suffered an injury in fact. Assuming that they established that funded activities abroad threaten certain species, they failed to show that one or more of their members would thereby be directly affected apart from the members' special interest in the subject. See Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U. S. 727, 735, 739. Mfidavits of members claiming an intent to revisit project sites at some indefinite future time, at which time they will presumably be denied the opportunity to observe endangered animals, do not suffice, for they do not demonstrate an "imminent" injury. Respondents also mistakenly rely on a number of other novel standing theories. Their theory that any person using any part of a contiguous ecosystem adversely affected by a funded activity has standing even if the activity is located far away from the area of their use is inconsistent with this Court's opinion in Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U. S. 871. And they state purely speculative, nonconcrete injuries when they argue that suit can be brought by anyone with an interest in studying or seeing endangered animals anywhere on the globe and anyone with a professional interest in such animals. pp. 562-567.

(c) The Court of Appeals erred in holding that respondents had standing on the ground that the statute's citizen-suit provision confers on all persons the right to file suit to challenge the Secretary's failure to follow the proper consultative procedure, notwithstanding their inability to allege any separate concrete injury flowing from that failure. This Court has consistently held that a plaintiff claiming only a generally available grievance about government, unconnected with a threatened concrete interest of his own, does not state an Article III case or controversy. See, e. g., Fairchild v. Hughes, 258 U. S. 126, 129-130. Vindicating the public interest is the function of the Congress and the Chief Executive. To allow that interest to be converted into an individual right by a statute denominating it as such and permitting all citizens to sue, regardless of whether they suffered any concrete injury, would authorize Congress to transfer from the President to the courts the Chief Executive's most important constitutional duty, to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed," Art. II, § 3. Pp. 571-578.

SCALIA, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III-A, and IV, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and WHITE, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part III-B, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and WHITE and THOMAS, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which SOUTER, J., joined, post, p. 579. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post,

Full Text of Opinion

Primary Holding
Standing depends on a plaintiff being able to establish a concrete and imminent injury.
Under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies were required to consult with the Secretary of the Interior to ensure that their activities did not harm any species that was threatened with extinction. The Department of the Interior interpreted this law to require consultations only for agency actions within the United States, a view with which a wildlife conservation group known as the Defenders of Wildlife disagreed. They believed that activities funded by the Agency for International Development could threaten these species. Kelly and Skilbred, two of its members, provided affidavits stating that they had traveled to other nations to study endangered species in the past and would continue to make these trips in the future. These affidavits were intended to ward off a potential standing challenge. The Defenders also argued that all citizens had standing to sue under the Act, and they prevailed in the lower courts. The Department of the Interior then changed its regulations while the appeal was pending.



  • Antonin Scalia (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Anthony M. Kennedy
  • David H. Souter
  • Clarence Thomas

The case and controversy requirement under Article III of the Constitution means that a plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact, the defendant's conduct must have caused the injury, and there must be some likelihood that a court could provide a remedy for the harm if the plaintiff prevails. Government regulations of a third party generally do not give rise to a concrete injury that can support standing. These affidavits do not meet the plaintiff's burden with regard to standing because they show only a generalized future intention to study animals in foreign nations rather than citing definite plans. The harm is not concrete or imminent, and the law does not provide standing for every citizen based on generalized grievances. Moreover, Congress could not provide such standing under Article III, since the standing requirements may not be constitutionally avoided.


  • Anthony M. Kennedy (Author)
  • David H. Souter

The fact that the nexus theory that the plaintiffs used to support their standing argument failed in this case does not mean that it would always fail.


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)

This law was not intended to apply to government agencies acting in foreign countries. Summary judgment is appropriate for that reason, but the plaintiffs did meet the standing requirements because any action that harms a wildlife species also causes harm to someone who is trying to study the species.


  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)
  • Sandra Day O'Connor

The imminent injury standard potentially could be satisfied by the affidavits, since a reasonable jury could find that the individuals providing them planned to soon return to the foreign countries to study the wildlife there. Standing to sue under this law should be broadly granted, based on the intent of Congress that can be inferred from its language.

Case Commentary

Many scholars believe that in some situations statutory authority may be able to substitute for the requirement of concrete and imminent injury when Congress specifically grants individuals the right to sue. This case undermines that theory, however, and returns to a stricter view of standing.

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