A look at legal standing

By Leisa Boley Hellwarth

I’ve had dogs all of my life, but the Border Collie puppies that Kent and I acquired in 2019 add a whole new twist on canine companionship. Ranger and Tonto are workaholics. When I first started training them as puppies, I had little jerky treats I would give them for learning commands. I soon figured out that our Border Collies are not motivated by food. They would look me in the eye as if to say, “did I say I was hungry?” All these two litter mates want is praise, especially if it is praise for them working. They don’t even comprehend the concept of play. If you toss a ball for them they just stare at you like you are crazy. “What is the purpose of the round thing bouncing?” We thought a tug rope might entertain them but they just glared at it as if to ask, “How do you herd that?

Earlier this year we converted 10 acres to a permanent pasture so our milking herd has access to the outside whenever they want. The first day the cows were on pasture, the Border Collies looked at us as if to say, “Who authorized that?” Those two were so worried about the cows being out of position I thought they might litigate. That led me to explain the concept of standing to the Border Collies.

Standing is a legal concept that refers to the capacity of a person to file a lawsuit. At its most basic, standing is the right of a party to challenge the conduct of another party in court.

Standing is not about the actual issues of the case. Instead, it is about the parties to the lawsuit and where they “stand” in relation towards each other. Courts treat standing as an “antecedent” to a lawsuit. In other words, a party must prove they have standing before the court will consider the merits of the case. Although the definition of standing varies among different jurisdictions, most courts look at some or all of the following elements before determining whether a party has standing in a case:

A legally cognizable interest: This means that the plaintiff must show an interest that is recognized by the courts or by statute.

An injury-in-fact: The plaintiff must have a real or a threatened injury. This doesn’t have to mean a bodily injury. It can also mean an infringement of a concrete and actual protected interest. (property rights, civil rights, etc.)

Causation: The injury must be caused by the named defendant, not a third-party who acted independently.

Redressability: A plaintiff must show that a favorable court decision will likely redress the injury. Mere speculation is not enough.       

Recently, on August 17, 2023, Judge Tenheim, of Federal District Court, District of Minnesota, dismissed In re Cattle and Beef Antitrust Litigation for lack of standing. In October of 2022, three cow-calf ranchers: James Specht, Jerry Kelsey and Tad Larson filed suit against Cargill, JBS, Swift Beef Company, Tyson Foods and National Beef Packing Company and alleged the companies conspired to suppress fed cattle prices, which in turn caused the prices of cows and calves to collapse.

That previous paragraph makes the story of David facing Goliath look like an even match compared to three ranchers taking on the entire beef industry. But I digress. The Court never even got to the issues raised by the ranchers. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs, who represent the first step in the beef supply chain, failed to establish antitrust standing. The ranchers did not adequately explain the causal connection between manipulating fed cattle prices and lower cow-calf prices. Specifically, the plaintiffs failed to allege the traceability of their injury.

The case was dismissed without prejudice. That means that the case is not dismissed forever. The plaintiffs may try again so long as the litigation is filed within the statute of limitations. The plaintiffs, however, would have to find a way to connect the alleged acts of the beef packers with harm suffered by the cow-calf ranchers.

Meanwhile, the Border Collies have concluded they don’t need standing because they prefer the milking string being on pasture. Herding cows on 10 acres is way more exciting than merely moving animals from the free stall barn.

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