Pyrrhus and his Elephants

A plaintiff’s lack of standing to sue is about as close to a silver-bullet defense as civil-litigation defendants have at their disposal in federal court. The doctrine is based in Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which limits federal courts to hearing only “cases and controversies.” The doctrine puts the onus on a plaintiff to prove, among other factors, that she suffered an actual harm, and if she can’t, the court has no jurisdiction over the case. Because standing is a jurisdictional question, defendants can raise it at any point in the litigation. And as the Petitioner in the Supreme Court case Frank v Gaos learned in October Term 2018, courts can raise it sua sponte as well. 

There are also times, however, when a business defendant would prefer to be in federal court. When facing claims in a plaintiff-friendly state court, for instance, business defendants often seek the lawsuit’s removal to federal court. But what happens when a defendant in a successfully removed case successfully argues that the plaintiff lacks standing to sue? The result, as an October 18 district court ruling in Pitre v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. illustrates, will almost certainly be a Pyrrhic victory.