Standing is one of those basic concepts they teach everyone in law school. Courts, law students are told, are for the resolution of disputes between parties with a real stake in the outcome, not for the delivery of advisory opinions. Then, it being law school after all, you are taught a number of ways in which you can legally obtain standing and essentially get an advisory opinion. A single plaintiff with a small stake can bring a class action. A public official may agree that he or she will not sign a required document, and so be sued for a writ of mandamus; when the court decides whether the official can be forced to sign, it is also deciding on the constitutionality of the law the parties seek to have determined.
Although these and other methods of obtaining standing are recognized, it is not always possible to obtain a proper plaintiff. Two renowned securities fraud plaintiffs’ lawyers spent time in prison for paying people to act as plaintiffs in their cases.
It would be so much easier, of course, for certain organizational plaintiffs if they could turn their organization’s mission into standing. The Sierra Club, most notoriously, tried this in the seventies, and the Supreme Court smacked them down in Sierra Club v. Morton, a case notable for Justice Douglas claiming in dissent that the valley itself should have standing.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest appears to have tried it again, with, so far, the same result. The case was a drug case, not a food case, but the elements of the claim were not all that different from ones we’ve seen in the past. Bayer had made claims for its One-a-Day "Men’s Health Formula" Vitamins that selenium in the vitamins would reduce the risk of prostate cancer. CSPI made public demand on Bayer to withdraw the ads and, failing that, sued, which brought it a lot of publicity. Only the case wasn’t "John Smith who bought Bayer and was shocked that he wasn’t getting prostate cancer protection v. Bayer," it was CSPI against Bayer. Like the plaintiffs in Sierra Club v. Morton, they made no claim of any injury to themselves or their members. Rather, they claimed standing under the California’s Unfair Competition Law. But that statute contains its own express standing requirement, conferring standing on
a person who has suffered injury in fact and has lost money or property as a result of the unfair competition
CSPI didn’t get within a mile of that standard, according to the District Court. In an opinion dismissing the case, federal district court Judge Jefrrey S. White held that CSPI was benefited, not harmed, by Bayer’s alleged conduct. Citing to Sierra Club v. Morton, the court said,
An organization’s mere interest in a problem is insufficient to demonstrate a cognizable injury sufficient to confer standing. Rather, the allegations as currently pled indicate that, in reaction to Bayer’s alleged misrepresentations, CSPI as an organization reacted by disseminating information about nutritional science and by educating its members. This conduct, rather than causing CSPI to incur injury, fulfilled the espoused mission of the organization.
In other words, CSPI’s mission was enhanced by Bayer’s alleged actions. Thus, the action under the Unfair Competition Law was dismissed with prejudice. A similar claim under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, which has a lesser standing requirement, was dismissed with leave to amend, but with the court expressing skepticism that CSPI would be able to meet the standing requirement there as well.