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The Justiciability Requirements

scalesMany times lawyers have to educate clients on when there is grounds for a lawsuit and when there is not.  Sometimes lawyers are able to speak from experience and other times they rely upon guide posts provided from the courts and legislature in determining what the elements for  cause of action are in order for a person to successfully bring a claim.  There are, however, other requirements that all possible cases need to meet prior to an action being able to commence in a court: the case must not be moot, it must be fit for judicial review, and the party bringing suit must have standing.

Under the constitutional “justiciability” doctrine of mootness- an actual controversy must exist all stages of the proceeding.  If events subsequent to the filing of a case resolve the dispute, the case should be dismissed as moot.  For instance- if neighbor A abandons a large piece of machinery on neighbor B’s property, neighbor B may bring a claim for trespass on his property due to the fact that the machinery continues to reside on his property.  However, if after the lawsuit is filed neighbor A comes to his or her senses and takes the machinery back- the case would now be moot.  A case must not be moot at trial level- or it will be dismissed by the court.  While there are a few exceptions to this rule- it is important to note that a voluntary cessation of behavior by the Defendant may not result in a case being moot if that individual is free to resume the harm/injury causing behavior.

The second requirement of justiciability is ripeness.  Ripeness seeks to separate matters that are premature for review because the injury is speculative and may never occur.  This concept centers on whether the injury has occurred yet.  For example, suppose a customer buys an item such as a gun and subsequently learns that there is a design defect present in the gun that makes it easier to unintentionally shoot.  If that customer decides to bring a case against the gun manufacturer because the gun is defective- the case will be dismissed as ripe.  The case is not fit for judicial review because the injury causing behavior (the possibility that the gun may shoot unintentionally) has not occurred yet.  This is not to say that the customer would have no recourse (perhaps returning the gun), but the options present would not include a products liability claim.

 Finally, one of the most important foundational requirements in the law is standing.  A litigant must have a significant stake in the controversy to merit him or her being the one to litigate it.  Standing focuses on the party asserting the claim.  In order to meet the constitutional requirements for standing a potential plaintiff must allege that he or she has suffered (or imminently will suffer) an injury, that the injury is fairly traceable to the conduct of the defendant, and that the a favorable court decision is likely to redress the injury.  In other words, not just any person can bring a lawsuit alleging a wrong has occurred.

In some situations a third party may be the proper party to bring a suit on behalf of another.  For example, organizational groups may bring claims on behalf of one of it’s members assuming that certain requirements are met.  Justiciability requirements are extremely important and cannot be overlooked.  If you believe you have a claim- our office may be able to help and determine whether or not you have met all of the requirements necessary for court.  To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page.