Friday, November 15, 2013

Ripe for Review or a “Stale Slice of Precedent”? Eighth Circuit and D.C. Circuit Raise Question of Whether Prudential Standing is Jurisdictional, Waivable

In Lucas v. Jerusalem Café, LLC, 721 F.3d 927 (8th Cir. 2013), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit declined to decide the question of whether prudential standing was waivable, but in the process canvassed the federal appellate case law on a subject that has produced strong opinions from federal judges, including in a 2012 D.C. Circuit decision holding that prudential standing is jurisdictional.

In Lucas, six employees of a cafe claimed that their former employer did not pay them minimum wage and overtime for their work over a three year period, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Id. at 930-933. At the trial level, the plaintiffs won a jury verdict, and the district court entered judgment for them. The employer appealed to the Eighth Circuit, arguing for the first time that, as undocumented individuals without work authorization, the employees were not in the zone of interest of the FLSA, and thus lacked prudential standing to sue. Id. at 938.

Before deciding a case, a federal court must have both constitutional standing and prudential standing. Unlike with constitutional standing, Congress can – and sometimes does – override the requirements of prudential standing through statute. See Clarke v. Sec. Indus. Ass'n, 479 U.S. 388, 400 n.16 (U.S. 1987). In brief, the three elements of prudential standing are: (1) litigants may not assert the rights of third parties; (2) courts should refrain from adjudicating matters of wide public significance which amount to generalized grievances more appropriately resolved by other branches of government; and (3) litigants must demonstrate that their asserted interests are arguably within the zone of interests intended to be protected by the statute, rule, or constitutional provision upon which the claim is based. See Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751 (1984); Int’l Ass’n of Firefighters of Saint Louis v. City of Ferguson, 283 F.3d 969, 973-74 (8th Cir. 2002).