One barrier to action

By: David Favre.

D istressing news often arrives at (Animal Legal Defense Fund) ALP office : “X Company has six primates boa under cruel conditions,” or “Y Corporation starting up another egg laying facility which house 200,000 chickens in battery cages.” ALDF members and supporters urge us to do something about the problem, to file a lawsuit in order to protect the animals

However, sometimes we can not file direct legal action on behalf of the animals.

The obstacle that often prevents us from filing a lawsuit is the legal concept that is known as “standing, which refers to your right to “stand before the Court and complain.”

Every lawsuit must meet certain requirements before the court will allow the party suing (the plaintiff) to make his or her argument against an alleged wrongdoer (the defendant). One of the basic requirements is the test of standing.

Simply stated, to have standing, the plaintiff must show that the action or conduct complained of in the lawsuit interferes with a legally recognizable right of the plaintiff An example----the violation of a legal right is harm to a person’s body or a person’s property . Therefore, if Mr. Steven Litz shoots you in the leg, or shoots your dog in the leg, you have standing to sue Mr. Litz for the damages you suffered.

Presume that for some reason you decide not to sue Mr. Litz. . Your neighbor, Ms. Patty Brown believes that the actions of Mr. Litz are outrageous and that he should be forced to pay for the harm he did to you and/or your dog. If Ms. Brown files a lawsuit naming Mr. Litz as the defendant, the defendant’s attorney will be able to have the lawsuit thrown out of court, or dismissed because the plaintiff (Patty ) does not satisfy the “standing test.”

The legal system does not recognize Ms. Brown’s moral outrage as a justification for filing the lawsuit . The actions of Mr. Litz did not cause any physical or real financial harm to Patty. and therefore she is unable to sue for the harm done to you or your dog.

Similarly, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, as an organization may be outraged by illegal or unethical conduct in the treatment of animals but we are often precluded from filing a lawsuit because we are not the owners of the animals, nor have we been harmed financially by the pain and suffering inflicted upon animals

One of the important roles that ALDF plays in the legal arena is to seek out those individuals that might personally satisfy the requirements of “standing” even if the organization does not.

In the past five years, ALDF has been uniquely successful in finding and then representing harmed individuals under the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). With great persistence, ALDF has obtained opinions from two of the federal Courts of Appeals (just beneath the Supreme Court) granting standing for private parties under the AWA. Having established that standing is possible, ALDF is hoping that more cases can be filed to help animals being treated contrary to the provisions of the federal law.

These standing cases are premised on the issue of harm to a human. In the long run, “ standing” will be removed as a barrier to anima l law suits when the harm to the animal is itself recognized as a legal harm.


David Favre, who was on the board of ALDF for more than twenty years, is a professor of law at Michigan State University where he teaches animal law, wildlife law and also international environmental law.



Spring 2007. Volume 26. Number 1 (pg. 5)

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