Sunday, September 26, 2021

Another reason for statehood: DC law can't confer organizational standing beyond Article III

Clean Label Project Found. v. Garden Of Life, LLC, 2021 WL 4318099, No. 20-3229 (RC) (D.D.C. Sept. 23, 2021)

CLP, a non-profit, sued Garden of Life, a seller of prenatal supplements, for unlawful trade practices in violation of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act. The court found no standing for want of an injury in fact.

To further its mission, CLP had an accredited third-party chemistry laboratory perform quantitative testing on Garden’s products, and the results found that they “contained quantifiable levels of heavy metals as well as detectable amounts of WHO Class II Pesticides and BPA,” substances that CLP asserts “are extremely dangerous to a fetus.” The CPPA permits nonprofit organizations to bring actions “on behalf of itself or any of its members, or on any such behalf and on behalf of the general public,” and also allows “public interest organization[s]” to bring actions “on behalf of the interests of a consumer or a class of consumers.”  (Note that because DC has been denied statehood, there are no state courts to turn to instead, only Article I federal courts. No decision I have found fully addresses what standing limits there are on Article I courts; the Court of Federal Claims applies Art. III standing requirements despite being an Article I court, e.g., Weeks Marine, Inc. v. United States, 575 F.3d 1352, 1359 (Fed. Cir. 2009). Apparently there is a dispute over whether Art. III applies in bankruptcy court.)

For organizational standing, the organization must “show[ ] that a defendant’s actions have ‘perceptibly impaired’ the organization’s ability to provide services, such that there has been a ‘concrete and demonstrable injury to the organization’s activities—with [a] consequent drain on resources.’ ” A “mere setback” to an organization’s “abstract social interests is not sufficient.”

Neither of CLP’s arguments—that Garden’s false and misleading statements interfered with its overall educational mission and that the statutory violation was itself sufficient for injury in fact—worked.

CLP didn’t properly allege a “drain on the organization’s resources” resulting from the conflict between Garden’s acts and its mission. Even if Garden’s falsehoods interfered with “educat[ing] customers with regard to food labeling truth and transparency,” there was no evidence of any concrete harm that accrued to CLP as a result. There was no claim that CLP was required to increase the resources it devoted to programs independent of the lawsuit.

As for the statutory standing argument, “Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.” As another court wrote, “D.C. law is clear that the CPPA is meant to extend as far as Article III’s requirements will permit—but it can go no further than that” [because DC has been denied statehood].

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