Just when you thought the difficulty of establishing standing rendered citizens’ environmental lawsuits against corporations obsolete, the U.S. Supreme Court Jan. 12 handed down Friends of the Earth Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services Inc. (2 CLW 67, 1/20/00). In the decision, penned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the Court decided that Friends of the Earth Inc. initially had standing to bring the lawsuit, based on the sworn testimony of several individuals who claimed they could no longer enjoy South Carolina’s North Tyger River due to their perception that the river was polluted. In addition, the Court found that FOE’s claim was not rendered moot when, after the filing of the lawsuit, Laidlaw came into compliance with its chemical discharge permit and closed the hazardous waste incinerator facility in question.

The Laidlaw decision resolved several issues relating to the law of standing, primarily as it relates to citizen’s environmental suits. Citizens’ lawsuits are filed under statutes, like the Clean Water Act, that allow private citizens to bring environmental actions if the government has not taken appropriate action. The CWA also provides for damages paid as a fine to the U.S. Treasury, and the award of attorney’s fees to the citizens’ group.