Nahmod Law

Section 1983 in State Courts: Justiciability

To what extent do the Article III justiciability standards that govern federal court litigation, including the standing requirements of injury in fact, causation and redressability, apply to §1983 actions filed in state court?

There is nothing that prevents a state’s highest court from adopting a federal standard for justiciability that is applicable to all claims, federal and state, filed in its courts. The Supreme Court of Alabama did just this in Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Bd. v. Henri-Duval Winery, L.L.C., 890 So. 2d 70 (Ala. 2003), as modified on denial of reh’g, (Apr. 30, 2004), when it adopted the United States Supreme Court’s three-part standing test applicable in federal courts for use in Alabama courts. Subsequently, in Ex parte King, 50 So. 3d 1056 (Ala. 2010), the Supreme Court of Alabama applied this standing test and found that the plaintiffs, who sued under §1983 and argued that the 1901 Arkansas Constitution was never properly ratified and was therefore void, did not allege the requisite injury in fact. Thus, the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring their §1983 claim in state court.

To the same effect is Gifford v. West Ada Joint School Dist., 498 P.2d 1206 (Idaho 2021), where the Idaho Supreme Court stated: “Standing law in Idaho substantially mirrors federal standing law.” Thus, injury in fact, causation and redressability must be established in every case filed in state court. In the case before it, the plaintiff parents alleged that the defendant school board illegally (under both the Idaho Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment) charged tuition fees for the second half of kindergarten instruction. The Idaho Supreme Court found that the parents had standing to pursue a claim related to their son’s alleged educational injury. However, they did not have standing to pursue a claim for economic injury: because they did not in fact pay kindergarten fees, they suffered no economic injury.

What if a state court adopts state justiciability standards that are tougher for a §1983 plaintiff than Article III standards, with the result that the §1983 plaintiff does not have standing, whereas if the §1983 plaintiff had filed in federal court, there would be standing?

 Dealing with this question, the Supreme Court of Oregon stated, after analysis of the United State’s Supreme Court case law: “[A]n Oregon court cannot apply [more stringent] state standards of mootness and justiciability to a section 1983 claim brought in state court if application of those standards would preclude a plaintiff’s federal claim, but application of the federal standards would not.” Barcik v. Kubiaczyk, 321 Or. 174, 895 P.2d 765 (1995). The Oregon Supreme Court observed that if the result were otherwise, a plaintiff’s rights in a federal claim would be limited “simply because that claim is brought in state court.” In the case before it, the trial court did just that and this was error. State mootness and justiciability standards were neither jurisdictional rules relating to subject matter jurisdiction or personal jurisdiction, nor were they “neutral procedural rules” relating to the administration of the courts.

What if a state’s justiciability standards are generally more favorable to a §1983 plaintiff suing in state court than Article III standards?

In the Barcik case, the Oregon Supreme Court expressly did not address what would happen if state justiciability standards generally were more favorable to a §1983 plaintiff suing in state court than federal justiciability standards would be. 321 Or. at 186 n9. I would suggest, though, that this should not raise a troublesome issue of federal law because it does not discriminate against or otherwise burden federal claims and thus does not violate the Supremacy Clause. Compare Haywood v. Drown, 556 U.S.729 (2009).

On the other hand, if the §1983 case initially filed in state court were to be removed by the defendants to federal court, then a serious Article III standing issue could arise for the §1983 plaintiff because Article III justiciability requirements cannot be waived, unlike, say, the Eleventh Amendment. Lapides v. Board of Regents, 535 U.S. 613 (2002). See, on removal and the Eleventh Amendment, Nahmod, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Litigation: The Law of Section 1983 §1:39 (2021-22; West & Westlaw). The result in such a case could be the loss of standing for the §1983 plaintiff in federal court.

Along similar lines, consider my post regarding removal and pleading requirements in situations where §1983 defendants removed a case from state court, with its liberal pleading requirements, to federal court, with its stricter plausibility requirements. The result in a Fifth Circuit decision was that the stricter plausibility requirements governed in federal court. This too suggests that, in our hypothetical, the §1983 plaintiff would not have standing in federal court.

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Written by snahmod

March 18, 2022 at 9:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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